Sceau Royal is Fighting fit
View from connections ahead of the stanjames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.
Sceau Royal (r) will bid to enhance his Champion Hurdle claims
Alan King expects to learn more about Sceau Royal's capabilities by running him in the stanjames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle on Saturday.
The four-year-old won three times for the Barbury Castle handler last season, but came up short when stepped up to the highest level in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and at Aintree.
However, he could not have been more impressive on his seasonal reappearance at Cheltenham and having produced a similarly dominant performance in landing the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton earlier this month, Sceau Royal gets another chance to prove his worth in Grade One company.
King hopes to discover whether his youngster is a realistic contender for the Champion Hurdle.
"He's in good form and we're very happy with him," the trainer told At The Races.
"It's an interesting race, but I think he deserves to be there. We'll know more (about his Champion Hurdle claims) after the race. There's Irish horses coming over so it will be a good test.
"He won well at Wincanton. It's going to be different conditions and softer ground, but, to be fair, Wincanton was plenty quick enough for him.
"He won on testing ground round Cheltenham last year and I would think the ground will be all right, but this will be another step up for him."
Gigginstown House Stud claimed last year's Fighting Fifth with Identity Thief and the leading owners are double-handed in this year's renewal with Apple's Jade and Petit Mouchoir.
Apple's Jade produced one of the most visually impressive performances of last season when winning by 41 lengths at Aintree and comfortably followed up at Punchestown.
But the former Willie Mullins inmate suffered a short-priced reverse on her debut for Gordon Elliott in the WKD Hurdle at Down Royal.
Connections initially suggested the filly would be stepped up in distance, but she remains at two miles, with the more testing terrain expected to suit.
Gigginstown manager Eddie O'Leary told the Irish Independent: "When she won by a huge margin last season, Aintree was very soft and she was not letting herself down on the ground at Down Royal.
"She wasn't fit – she gave a heave. We hope to see the benefit of that and plenty of improvement now."
Petit Mouchoir represents last year's winning trainer Henry de Bromhead.
The five-year-old was a shade under two lengths behind Apple's Jade at Down Royal, but is the choice of Gigginstown's retained rider Bryan Cooper, with Jack Kennedy partnering the Elliott runner.
"He seems in good form. He had a nice run in Down Royal the other day," said De Bromhead.
"It's a very good race and good timing. It's very good prize-money and a Grade One and they looked after us very well there last year.
"We'll take one race at a time. He wasn't far off the top novice hurdlers last year and we'll see how he progresses. I suppose you could say his better runs have been on better ground, but I think we need to go and see how we get on."
Irving won this prize in 2014, but failed to sparkle 12 months ago and was similarly disappointing on his latest run in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton back in February.
Connections of the Paul Nicholls-trained eight-year-old are hoping he will be firing on all cylinders on his first run after a break.
Dan Downie, racing manager for owners Axom, said: "He's well and in good form. He'll probably come on a little bit for the run, but he's fresh and as fit as we can get him at home, so we'll see what he can do.
"He seems to either win or run no sort of race at all, so we'll see what happens on Saturday.
"He can run very well fresh and his form tends to tail off in the spring, so this is probably the best time to get him.
"It's competitive, but he likes the ground and a flat track and a small field suits him, so there are probably more positives than there are negatives."
Apple's Jade and Petit Mouchoir are joined on the trip across the Irish Sea by Hidden Cyclone.
The 11-year-old ran a tremendous race to finish second in the Galway Hurdle during the summer and has won his last two starts over obstacles at Listowel and Punchestown, but trainer Shark Hanlon admits his stable stalwart faces a tougher task at Newcastle.
Hanlon said: "He arrived on Wednesday evening and travelled over well. It looks a wide-open race, but it'd be hard to say you fancy him as he has a good bit to find with a few of them on ratings.
"He goes there in very good form, though."
Keith Dalgleish's Mirsaale, runner-up to Moon Racer in the Supreme Trial at Cheltenham a fortnight ago, completes the six-strong field.