New One to watch in Hurdle bid
Sam Twiston-Davies believes The New One needs to win today's StanJames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham to keep his Champion Hurdle dreams firmly alive.
The six-year-old was a luckless third in last season's two-mile blue riband, flying up the famous hill having been badly hampered by the fatal fall of Our Conor, leaving connections wondering what might have been.
He has made a fine start to the new campaign, winning a Listed prize at Kempton and a conditions event at Haydock and he will be a long odds-on favourite to clinch this weekend's Grade Two prize for the second successive year.
"He seems in very good form and everyone is happy with him at home," said the jockey.
"It's a solid race and he has to give weight away all round, but if he is going to be a live contender for the Champion Hurdle these are races he needs to be winning.
"Luckily he seems to handle any ground, which is a big plus."
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is similarly confident his stable star can make it three from three for the season.
He said: "We're very much looking forward to it, the horse is in very good form and we'll see what happens.
"It's an interesting race and he has to give a lot of weight away, but I wouldn't necessarily say it was his toughest test of the season.
"It was a tough test up at Haydock, with Melodic Rendezvous in the race."
The Naunton handler also saddles the often recalcitrant Mad Moose, who makes his first appearance in little over a year having served a suspension dished out by the British Horseracing Authority for his previous antics at the start.
Twiston-Davies is praying his 10-year-old consents to jump off.
"He's got to set off as if he doesn't, it will probably be the end of his racing career," said the trainer. "It's a little bit anxious times, so fingers crossed."
Mad Moose carries the colours of Middleham Park Racing and lines up in this event instead of the Relkeel Hurdle on the same card.
Bloodstock manager Nick Bradley said: "The prize money swayed us to go for the International.
"First time back will probably be our best chance. Nigel has said Mad Moose has not shown any inclination to stop in the last three weeks and he's going well at home in terms of his work, but Nigel did reiterate at home is not a racecourse.
"We should be all right, but I couldn't be certain."
The horse expected to give The New One most to think about is Nicky Henderson's Greatwood Hurdle runner-up Vaniteux. The five-year-old is rated 13lb inferior to the Twiston-Davies runner, but does receive 8lb and Henderson is keen to see if his charge can compete at the top level.
He said: "This is where we've got to go. There aren't a lot of options for him.
"We're taking on The New One and co - there are other good horses in the race - so we'll see how we get on.
"We've got to take him on now, getting a bit of weight, as there is no point taking him on at Christmas off level weights otherwise.
"He ran a very good race in the Greatwood and this is another step up.
"The ground was pretty bad last time, so conditions shouldn't be a problem."