The Paul Nicholls-trained Irving bids to join an elite crop and become only the fifth horse to win back-to-back runnings of the StanJames.com Fighting Fifth Hurdle, but he will be faced with strong opposition from over the Irish Sea as he aims to repeat last year’s success.
The seven-year-old, who has carried all before him this season winning impressively on both his starts, is set to line up against six useful opponents and has strong credentials in becoming the first horse since Dato Star in 1999 to win the race in successive years.
In what looks a strong renewal, Irving will be tested with a powerful raiding party emerging from Ireland. Willie Mullins will be relying on the supplemented Wicklow Brave, who is bidding to give the elusive trainer his first winner at Newcastle, and Henry De Bromhead saddles the unexposed five-year-old Identity Thief.
Top Notch, who was runner-up to Irving at Haydock last Saturday, renews rivalry and will be hoping to go one better and provide trainer Nicky Henderson with his fourth Fighting Fifth.
Robert Stephens’ runs the exciting juvenile Beltor while John Ferguson will be solely represented by Purple Bay and the Karl Burke-trained filly Intense Tango, complete the septet.
Irving is currently second favourite at 11-4, with Wicklow Brave a strong 7-4 chance after he finished a close third behind stable mates Nichols Canyon and Faugheen in the Grade One Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown a fortnight ago.