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Old Guard gets better of Rockerfeller to star in Nicholls four-timer

Old Guard: winner of the National Spirit Hurdle
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It will be new versus old at Cheltenham next month after Old Guard booked a clash with The New One in the SunBets Stayers' Hurdle with a smooth win in the totepool National Spirit Hurdle.

Old Guard has yet to tackle three miles, but trainer Paul Nicholls has no doubt he will stay the distance, especially if the ground dries, after his dismissal of last year's Stayers' runner-up Lil Rockerfeller over in Fontwell's richest race.

The win secured a plum festival ride for Harry Cobden, who rode Old Guard at Fontwell because Sam Twiston-Davies has committed to ride The New One, trained by father Nigel.

"Today almost down the back he was outpaced and stamina won the day for him," said Nicholls. "The ground is the most important thing. He wants goodish ground. He doesn't want it like it was at Christmas.

"We haven't run him over three miles before and I said to the boys I didn't want to do that until the day. I've no doubt he'll stay. He is bred for it and was a stayer on the Flat.

Paul Nicholls: convinced Old Guard will get the trip in Stayers' Hurdle
"He didn't look like he was lacking in stamina there. He is not unlike Celestial Halo who has run well in the Stayers'. It's a shot in the dark but he is a class horse. It's an open Stayers' Hurdle."

Old Guard was cut to 25-1 (from 33) by Paddy Power after holding Lil Rockerfeller cosily by a length and the half, with 11 lengths back to the third Air Horse One.

Always on the pace, Old Guard was the only one to go with Lil Rockerfeller when he quickened the tempo on the final circuit and took up the lead at the second-last.

"Turning in I didn't really want to get there too soon," said Cobden. "It's a long way home. He got there and found it easy and hacked up after then.

"He owes me nothing. I won a Greatwood on him on something like my eighth ride. The ground today was good to soft, a bit dead. He wouldn't want it softer."

Neil King fitted Lil Rockerfeller in first-time blinkers, hoping he could repeat his win of two years ago. They produced an improvement on his disappointing showing in the Long Walk Hurdle but no win.

"I am not really sure blinkers have done a lot for him," said the trainer. "It was a smashing run but the wrong result. If he's all okay we will be going for the Stayers' Hurdle.

"My immediate reaction would be to go back and put the cheekpieces on. I can't see they've sharpened him. He's just run his normal race. Two and a half miles around Fontwell is as sharp as he'd ever want to go these days.

"We put the blinkers on to try and make him sharper but I don't think they have made that 4-5lb difference. Many times up the run-in I thought he would still get there."

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We haven't run him over three miles before and I said to the boys I didn't want to do that until the day. I have no doubt he'll stay
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