The New One: won the Neptune by four lengths at the festival in MarchPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
New One out to enhance Champion Hurdle claims
Preview: Cheltenham, Saturday, 3.00pm
StanJames.com International Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m1f
THE NEW ONE, general ante-post favourite for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, takes the next step towards his title bid in March when he locks horns with old rival Zarkandar in a race likely to throw further light on his claim to the hurdling crown.
Nigel Twiston-Davies's talented five-year-old, who is quoted at between 3-1 and 4-1 for the Champion, seems sure to start at short odds for this afternoon's clash even though he was beaten half a length by Zarkandar at Aintree in April.
Twiston-Davies has never lacked confidence in his stable star, who justified his sky-high reputation when landing the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle by four lengths at the festival in March, and arguably looked an even more polished performer on his Kempton seasonal reappearance in October.
Twiston-Davies, who landed this race with Khyber Kim in 2009, said: "The New One is in good form. We're looking forward to the race and should learn a bit more from it. We'll see how the race goes before making future plans.
"At this stage I don't know whether he'd go for the Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day. We have been very easy on him since Kempton, and there is still improvement in him. We are pacing out his season and aiming him at the big one in the spring."
Last year's winner Zarkandar beat The New One off level weights at Aintree over 2m4f equipped with blinkers for the first time, and trainer Paul Nicholls is not convinced the market has got it totally right.
"Zarkandar has always been under-rated," Nicholls said. "He ran well when second [to Annie Power] at Ascot three weeks ago, and will do so again at Cheltenham."
The blinkers, which were left off at Ascot, are refitted this afternoon.