Betting Ring: Zarkandar good value to repeat success over The New One
ROBBIE BURNS once wrote that "there is no such uncertainty as a sure thing." However, punters around Cheltenham are not taking much heed of Scotland's national poet, it seems, and The New One looks set to go off as short as 1/2 for this afternoon's Stanjames.com International Hurdle (3.0).
Those odds would suggest that victory for the Champion Hurdle favourite is almost a formality, and it's difficult to make a case for opposing Nigel Twiston-Davies' five-year-old today.
But there are no certainties in this game and a number of so-called good things have fluffed their lines in recent renewals of this race.
In 2009, Celestial Halo went off at 4/7, but had to settle for the runner-up spot, while in 2003, Rooster Booster finished just fifth of seven runners, despite being sent off at 8/13.
Certainly, The New One has claims. He's always had a good turn of foot and it was used to devastating effect when winning a listed hurdle at Kempton back in October in which Rock On Ruby finished second.
It was visually impressive, but how much we can learn from that race is questionable, given that The New One only had one real rival, albeit a former Champion Hurdle winner.
Rock On Ruby appeared a little rusty on that occasion and perhaps he wanted more than two miles, although, in fairness, the winner did what was asked perfectly and certainly remains open to improvement.
Previously, The New One finished second to Paul Nicholls' Zarkandar in April's John Smith's Aintree Hurdle, and the latter could be the value call at 9/4 as the pair lock horns again today.
Some have suggested that Zarkandar's victory over The New One at Aintree was somewhat opportunistic, considering Zarkandar had the run of the race, but I don't really buy into that argument.
While I'd agree that Zarkandar was allowed to dictate the pace, if you watch the race again, you will see that Zarkandar jumped splendidly throughout, remained dogged in front and then dug deep when The New One came on strong with a challenge.
You can't ask for much more than that. The New One has plenty of pace and it's true to say that a muddling sort of race at Aintree wasn't exactly ideal.
While his Kempton race offers the promise of more, I don't think he's that far ahead of his rival today in terms of class and I doubt his chances of success today are in the region of 67pc, as the market would suggest.
Zarkandar finds plenty and that could prove crucial as they battle their way up the hill.
The selection finished second conceding a lot of weight in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot last time out, but lost little in defeat as the one that beat him, Annie Power, is one of the most exciting mares we've seen in some time and is now priced at 10/1 for the Champion Hurdle in March.
COLOUR Squadron is a serious contender for the Stewart Family Thank You Gold Cup at Cheltenham (2.25) and the fact that Tony McCoy has picked him over Cantlow gives extra confidence.
The champion jockey'ss presence has seen the price pushed in to 9/2, which seems a little restrictive.
Instead, a chance is taken each-way on 16/1 shot Silver Roque, which is trained by Fergal O'Brien. He won an eight-runner handicap chase at Sedgefield last month and although he's been punished by the handicapper, the word on the street is that his latest race didn't take too much out of him. He may just have enough in the tank to land a place.
1.50 Cheltenham: Kings Palace
2.05 Doncaster: Royal Irish Hussar
2.20 Southwell: Alfaayza
2.25 Cheltenham: Silver Roque (e/w)
3.0 Cheltenham: Zarkandar
7.50 Wolverhampton: Slope
Do the Double
TOMORROW'S Tottenham v Liverpool fixture is fascinating from a betting point of view. Spurs seem to have got their act together since taking a 6-0 hammering at Manchester City recently, yet questions remain over their defence. Luis Suarez has been unstoppable for Liverpool of late, although on the flip side, the Reds have kept very few clean sheets this term. It's a tricky one to call and I reckon the smart money could be on the draw at 2/1.
KEVIN BURKE'S new recruit Alfaayza (10/11) is a half-sister to a number of winners and while she hasn't set the world alight in her four races to date, her breeding suggests she'll improve over time. She went close in her all-weather debut at Kempton last time, trading at 1/3 in-running, but eventually finding Aertex too good -- though she's on the right track and it would be no surprise to see her get off the mark in the 32Red Maiden Stakes at Southwell (2.20).