With all the agonising and anticipation leading up to the Cheltenham Festival, there’s something about a horse that you pin your hopes on, who then doesn’t perform on the day – It takes a while to rebuild the relationship. And so it is with The New One who I’d backed in this year’s Champion Hurdle and probably looked for every reason not to support him at Ffos Las yesterday.
Whilst some of the top jockeys chose Stratford in preference to South Wales, perhaps attracted by more rides, this handed the opportunity to amateur jockey Zac Baker in what was undoubtedly the top race of he day – The Welsh Champion Hurdle. For only the second time in his career The New One was ridden without Sam Twiston-Davies on board and fair play Mr Baker, you grabbed your chance.
Clyne quite properly went off favourite – A horse that loves the course almost as much as he would have relished the going, officially described as soft/ heavy in places, but with persistent rain and the survival of an early inspection I suspect veering towards the latter. Whilst The New One had beaten Clyne back in January, that was only by a length and with an extra 4lbs. Yesterday with a new jockey and Clyne’s 13lb advantage, it was no surprise punters had written a different script. For what it’s worth I backed another course and distance winner, who I thought would appreciate the going, Rons Dream. Whilst her success all seems like a long time ago, in a six horse race to be run in the lashing rain, I figured anything could happen and was drawn in by the attractive odds. As it turned out she faded quickly when it mattered and finished fourth out of five, with Remiluc having unseated Harry Reed.
The vastly experienced Sire De Grugy has run in some illustrious company over the years, but after a long lay off and now 11 years old, expectations weren’t high. He came a respectable third. However, in reality this was only ever going to be a contest between Clyne and The New One. Leading from the front, he didn’t always make life easy for Zac Baker. With a tendency to hang to the right and not always jumping cleanly – he absolutely clattered the final hurdle- there were times when Clyne looked as if he would finish the better. I wouldn’t take anything away from Zac Baker, who was made to work hard to secure the victory, but as yer man in Corals said to me before the start: “You can’t argue with class”.
Apart from imminent runs at Cheltenham or Aintree, Nigel Twiston-Davies is giving little away about his season’s plans for The New One. Should he end up at the Festival again in March, memories of last year’s disappointment might just have disappeared sufficiently for me to be tempted to back him again.