SPARSHOLT trainer Harry Whittington is hoping the prospect of soft ground materialises for his big Cheltenham Festival fancy Saint Calvados.

Following the thaw, clerk of the course Simon Claisse reported that the going was soft, good to soft in places.

And that, together with a forecast of rain in the run-up to next week’s meeting, will be music to the ears of Whittington, whose leading Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase contender revels on an easy surface.

The five-year-old, a best-priced 9-2 third favourite for Tuesday’s Grade 1 contest, has yet to tackle ground quicker than soft in seven career starts.

After winning two Newbury handicaps on his first two outings for Whittington, the French import outlined his Festival credentials with an impressive success in the Grade 2 Betway Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

The Sparsholt trainer said of the going: “As long as there is cut in it he will be fine. I think he’ll handle the track and he’s improved with every run this year.”

“I’ve more reservations about better ground than what he has been running on as he is by Saint Des Saints, and he has got that knee action and he seems to have handled soft ground very well.

“I’d be more hopeful of a bigger performance on soft ground than better ground, that’s for sure.”

Looking beyond the Festival, Whittington does not anticipate stepping Saint Calvados up in trip any time soon.

He added: “I wouldn’t be surprised if he was kept at two miles next season and we aim him at something like the Tingle Creek. He looks like he is getting quicker all the time.

“He has got so much natural speed it looks like he is going a million miles an hour, but he is just hacking.”

Whittington is also due to represented by Simply The Betts, a 40-1 outsider in the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday, and Bigmartre, a 20-1 chance in the JLT Novices’ Chase on Thursday.

Simply The Betts has yet to win over hurdles, but was only beaten a neck by Beyond The Clouds at Musselburgh last time out, while Bigmartre jumped well to win his first two starts over fences at Ludlow and Newbury this term, before going down by a short head to Duke Of Navan at Doncaster.

West Ilsley trainer Mick Channon will be hoping for a bold show from Mister Whitaker, who is a 20-1 shot for both the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase on Tuesday and the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase on Thursday.

Bought by West Lockinge-based trainer Henrietta Knight for owner Tim Radford, the six-year-old gelding showed his liking for the course when landing the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase in January.