The New One warms up for Faugheen showdown with gritty Haydock success
He hardly set the world alight, but The New One will at least be heading into a rematch with Faugheen with a confidence-boosting win under his belt after repeating his success of 12 months ago in the StanJames.com Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock.
Last season Nigel Twiston-Davies' pride and joy was put in his place by the Willie Mullins' battalion in the Champion Hurdle - but the Gloucestershire handler insists The New One will arrive at this year's Cheltenham Festival in much better shape, barring accidents.
Oliver Sherwood's Rayvin Black made the 16-times winner pull out all the stops in desperately heavy ground, despite trying to pull himself up on the first circuit, but eventually the 8/13 favourite won by two-and-a-quarter lengths under Sam Twiston-Davies.
Trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies said: "He was much better this year, I thought. He jumped straight, in fact that was probably as well as he's ever jumped.
"He'll be going to Cheltenham in better form this year than last year, from this point on. It was a struggle with his feet (last year), he did all his prep in the swimming pool. We were still only beaten by eight lengths and I'm hoping with a straight run at it we can be more competitive.
"It's hard for any horse to be impressive in that ground, it blunts acceleration, which is his strong suit.
"He's given 8lb to a horse rated 146, I don't think that's bad form on ground he hates. He'll be better in March."
The winning rider, who will miss February 7 and 8 for using his whip in the incorrect place, said: "Ground-wise today, it is a different kind of testing, it is so lifeless and it just kills all his good attributes.
"The fact he has plenty of speed and can jump well off good ground, it's just something today that hasn't suited him. But even so he has carried top weight, so it was a solid run.
"Happy, but as always with this race we're not coming out fully delighted, but there's a bit to work on yet."
On the Champion Hurdle, in which The New One was fifth 12 months ago and third in 2014, he added: "Obviously Faugheen is very, very good but second, third, fourth - the crumbs are very tasty ones. We know what it's like, if something goes wrong for the favourite he could maybe pick up the rest, we'll see what happens."
Twiston-Davies had more to smile about after Bristol De Mai (7/4) strolled to victory in the Start Your RacingUK Free Trial Now Novices' Chase.
With favourite Otago Trail not running to form it is probably wise not to get too excited, but it is interesting connections are now considering the RSA Chase as well as the JLT in March.
From some way out the only danger was Amore Alato but with two to jump he was running on empty, allowing Bristol De Mai to coast to a 32-length win under Daryl Jacob.
"He's won very well and he handles that bad ground well," said Twiston-Davies. "We're thinking a trip is what he needs, seeing him win like that.
"He won't have an Arkle entry now and he'll be in the JLT and RSA.
"As he's not pulling so much now we think he'll stay, he was gassy when he ran against Garde La Victoire and then Ar Mad took him off his feet.
"We think if he's running over further he won't need the ground so deep.
"He jumps great and will go straight to Cheltenham, I'd have thought."
Dan Skelton's string have returned from a quiet spell in recent days and Its'afreebee (7/2) ran out a game winner of the Grade Two Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle.
Harry Skelton set out to make all and though Paul Nicholls' favourite Le Prezien loomed up looking a huge threat, when it came down to a battle the long-time leader pulled out more for a three-quarter-length success.
Skelton said: "I talked with Dan on the way home last night and Bridget (Andrews) was also with us who won in him last time and we came up with a plan.
"Dan said we knew our lad stays so why don't we try and get those who'd been winning on the bridle at it from some way out.
"It's hard to come from too far back in this type of ground and I knew it would take a good one to come by me."
Baywing (11-4 favourite) provided Nicky Richards with a feather in his cap as he won his fourth race on the spin in the NRC Cheltenham Preview Night Here Handicap Hurdle at Haydock.
Richards said: "He stays well and he likes that ground. He has done grand and he has had the weather to help him. There is a race at Sandown on February 6 over two-miles-six so that could be an option."
Donald McCain was celebrating after Ubaltique (11/2) returned to form in the Lymm Handicap Chase under Aidan Coleman.
Sunday Indo Sport