Something's gotta give: The New One and Mullins put their records on the line
Ireland editor Richard Forristal savours an intriguing rivalry in the Cotswolds
For all that expectation and anticipation are the sentiments that fuel our passion for enthralling sporting encounters, there is a lot to be said for the old reliables.
It’s all very well studiously dissecting form and weighing up variables but we are all partial to the odd standing dish. Sometimes it’s just easier to abide by habitual winners.
When Manchester City meet Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday evening, they will be striving to extend their winning run in the Premier League to 16.
The runaway title-race leaders are unbeaten in 17 top-flight games this season and meet a Spurs team that did little to dispel accusations of habitual flakiness when picking up just two points from a possible 12 up to the beginning of the month.
Spurs have redeemed themselves with two wins on the spin, but City’s irrepressible swagger means they are long odds-on to prolong their flawless sequence.
The situation in what has the makings of a cracking Unibet International Hurdle is a little less straightforward. Up to now, every time The New One has turned up in the Cheltenham Grade 2 he has won.
Three times in the past four years Nigel Twiston-Davies’s popular stalwart has contested the race, each time justifying favouritism. He has been an absolute standing dish in the extended two-miler and will have a lot of support in his bid to make it four from four under trainer's son Sam, who is made up to have recovered from his injury in the nick of time to ride him.
Not that it will be easy – you would not expect it to be – and The New One has had a rival for favouritism in the past day or so in the shape of Melon.
With Willie Mullins testing the water with last season’s Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up, The New One’s prospects of maintaining his perfect record are a little less routine.
Indeed, Mullins has a 100 per cent record of his own to protect. Something’s gotta give.
Like any good general, the Closutton maestro, who like fellow Racing Post columnist Twiston-Davies jnr gives his thoughts on the clash a few pages on, picks his battles carefully. So far this season he has plotted just two British invasions.
On the same weekend a fortnight ago he plundered the Ladbrokes Trophy with Total Recall and then at Carlisle a day later Benie Des Dieux stretched her unbeaten record for the champion trainer to two.
It was a real smash and grab job. Melon is Mullins' sole runner in the Cotswolds so the trainer will be looking to get in and out with the loot in similarly expeditious fashion this afternoon.
If the betting is anything to go by, either Mullins or The New One will enhance their respective records, but improving types like John Constable, Old Guard and Ch’Tibello aren’t without claims.
Of course, My Tent Or Yours is also in with a shout, and there would be no shortage of irony should a horse with his own unique brand of dependability thwart the main protagonists.
Second to The New One last year, the three-time Champion Hurdle runner-up is nothing if not consistent.
He and The New One are fair benchmarks for Melon to be measured against, although they all have plenty to do to be considered legitimate contenders for the International-Champion Hurdle double last achieved by Rooster Booster in the 2002-2003 campaign.
Anyone for Caviar?
Earlier on, there is more than a hint of familiarity about the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
Each of the first five from the corresponding handicap last month take their chance again, with the game Splash Of Ginge – yet another of the Twiston-Davies stable's endearing equines – charged with reaffirming his superiority over Starchitect, Le Prezien, Ballyalton and Romain De Senam.
In clinging on by a neck 28 days ago, Splash Of Ginge gave Tom Bellamy a moment in the Saturday limelight that every young rider craves.
Bellamy gets another shot at the big time here, with his mount looking to become the first horse to secure both the prestigious winter handicaps since Exotic Dancer in 2006.
Chief among those out to deny the nine-year-old will be topweight Clan Des Obeaux, whose resurgent trainer Paul Nicholls last year won the race for a fourth time with Frodon.
Doing the steering on the impressive recent Haydock winner will be Harry Cobden, a rising star who is developing a fine penchant for triumphing in ITV Racing's feature events.
Last week’s superlative Tingle Creek victory on Politologue took Cobden’s string of lucrative Saturday wins to four, so he is fast earning a reputation as Mr Consistent.
A potentially class act
Further north at Doncaster, Nicholls’ Act Of Valour will bid to follow up his deeply impressive Newcastle hurdling debut in the Summit Juvenile Hurdle. He might be protecting a slightly more tenuous 100 per cent record, but for now it is at least in keeping with the theme of all things perfect.
We will soon see if he has the stuff to make winning a habit.
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