Nigel Twiston-Davies believes The New One is not yet at his physical peak as he puts his huge reputation on the line in the StanJames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham today.
The five-year-old was a brilliant winner of the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in the spring and signed off his campaign when narrowly beaten by Zarkandar in the Aintree Hurdle.
He is long odds-on to turn the tables on the same rival this weekend, having annihilated 2012 Champion Hurdle hero Rock On Ruby on his seasonal return at Kempton in October.
While Twiston-Davies has been pleased with his stable star since, he is anticipating further improvement between now and the Champion Hurdle in March.
“All has been fine since Kempton. We’ve had no problems at all with him,” said the Naunton handler.
“I don’t think he’ll improve for the run at Kempton, as we haven’t done a lot with him since, but I’m very pleased with him at home and we’re looking forward to running him.
“This isn’t the Champion Hurdle, so I expect he will improve again for this run and we’ll get this out of the way before we make any other plans.
“There is rain forecast, but that doesn’t worry me. As long as it’s not firm he’s fine.”
The trainer’s son Sam has been ever-present in the saddle during The New One’s 11-race career and feels he has now got to know the youngster inside out.
“You always look into the race, you’d be amazed at the amount of research Nigel and myself do into the other horses,” the jockey told At The Races.
“With horses like this you get one chance and we don’t want to mess it up, so we’ll be very prepared and hopefully it will go smoothly.
“We’re trying not to throw everything at the wall in one go, so we can give him a nice season.
“He’s the best I’ve ridden, he does everything so easily at home and even at the races it’s amazing how much boot he has, even off a good gallop. He’s very impressive.
“The slight chink he has is that he has one burst of speed. At Cheltenham’s Trials meeting last year I went for him and he went but then in the last 100 yards he was trying to hang on, so I was angry with myself that we got beat that day. I know how to ride him now. I’d be quite confident I know what to do and when to do it.”
The Paul Nicholls-trained Zarkandar is as consistent as they come and ran a perfectly respectable race on his return to action when conceding lumps of weight to exciting mare Annie Power in the Ascot Hurdle last month.
Nicholls is expecting his six-year-old to strip fitter for that run and has questioned the form of The New One’s devastating display at Kempton.
“He’ll definitely improve from that run at Ascot, which might prove to have been an impossible task giving the filly 11lb,” said the Ditcheat handler.
“I thought we tied up a little bit from the back of the last. Our horses have all just improved for a run and been carrying too much condition and he’s definitely sharper for that run.
“He’s not been beaten on the new track (New Course) at Cheltenham, it suits him much better than the old one that the Champion Hurdle is run on.
“The New One is a decent horse, but I don’t know about the Kempton form. He looked good on the day, but we’ll know more on Saturday.”
Court Minstrel is third in the betting for the Grade Two contest, but some way adrift of the big two.
The six-year-old ran creditably when seventh in last month’s Greatwood Hurdle at Prestbury Park, but trainer Evan Williams admits third place is probably the best he can hope for this weekend.
“He has been in flying form since the Greatwood and I thought he ran a really good race under top-weight – I was delighted with him,” said Williams.
“We hoped at the start of the season that he had progressed from last year, but he hasn’t and that is what he is. He is in very good form though and his work has been as good as it’s ever been.
“If we finish third, I will be very happy and just to be running in a race with the likes of The New One and Zarkandar is brilliant.
“He is impossible to place now because he has been beaten in two handicaps this season and hasn’t been dropped a pound.
“The positives on Saturday are that the ground will be perfect for him, the small field will suit and we are running for a lot of money.”
Colin Tizzard’s Jumps Road won a decent handicap at Wincanton little over a week ago and is another horse looking to pick up a share of the huge prize-money on offer.
The trainer’s son and stable jockey Joe is hoping the six-year-old gives talented rider Brendan Powell a good spin.
Tizzard jnr said: “The race has cut up, so we decided to give it a go. There is some nice prize-money on offer. We’re not expecting to challenge The New One, but if he can pick up some of the prize money we’ll be delighted.”
Seabreeze D’Ho and Albert Hall are two interesting challengers from France, but both have their work cut out to challenge The New One and Zarkandar on official ratings.
Tim Vaughan-trained outsider Hawkhill completes the seven-runner field.
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