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Back festival fav The New One before he bolts round Cheltenham

| 14.12.2013

Seven horses are set to compete in this weekend’s big race, the International Hurdle at Cheltenham, but the market believes only two runners have a realistic chance of taking this valuable renewal.

A good run is expected from Paul Nicholls’ prolific six-year-old Zarkandar – a winner eight times over the small obstacles – after a stout second-place finish on his seasonal reappearance behind Willie Mullins’ Annie Power last month in Ascot’s Coral Hurdle.

The gelding is 11/4 to win for the third time in five trips around Prestbury Park, but all eyes will be watching Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 2/5 favourite The New One in this clash.

Zarkandar beat The New One by half a length off level weights at Aintree’s Grand National meeting back in April, but the five-year-old son of King’s Theatre was still a novice at that stage and lost little in defeat.

The younger horse devoured a small field on his seasonal reappearance at Kempton in October, seeing off 2012 Champion Hurdle king Rock on Ruby by a whopping 10 lengths.

The New One has shown so much improvement of late that he is currently the favourite at 7/2 to take that particular prize at the Cheltenham Festival in four months, a price that would surely wither should Twiston-Davies’ star live up to his trainer’s bullish billing.

Of the outsider’s, Evan Williams’ six-year-old Court Minstrel has an outside chance of running into a place at 16/1 if he can recapture his Scottish Champion Hurdle form from last spring, when Adam Wedge steered him to a two and a half length win over joint-favourite Sametegal.

Regular jockey Paul Moloney is back on board here and if Court Minstrel can put his two below-par runs so far this season down to practice, he could capitalise on any troubles the top two in the betting encounter.