TRAINER Nigel Twiston-Davies could not have been more frank when asked why The New One was even running in the stanjames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham. “Money,” he declared.
Not only this, he ventured, but the popular horse would also attempt to make all the running to become just the third horse to land a hat-trick of victories in this Grade Two test. So it proved, with The New One hurdling with more fluency to hold off My Tent Or Yours, Nicky Henderson’s nearly horse, which once again rekindled Champion Hurdle dreams on the part of the winning connections as they collected the first prize of £74,000.
After all, Twiston-Davies had intended to go novice chasing with The New One who was even declared to run at Exeter on November 2. Yet, with the Westcountry meeting abandoned and the trainer shying away from Sandown’s Grade One novice chase the following day, this was too good an opportunity to miss.
Though The New One, nine on New Year’s Day, lacks some of his old zest, this season’s Champion Hurdle looks particularly wide open and the horse jumps far straighter now thanks, in no small part, to the tutelage of international three-day eventer Andrew Nicholson.
Of further significance was winning rider Richard Johnson – the current champion jockey – being only third choice after the trainer’s son Sam was claimed by his boss Paul Nicholls to ride Old Guard before Ryan Hatch, stable jockey to Twiston-Davies, suffered multiple fractures in a fall at Cheltenham on Friday.
“It worked out brilliantly. It’s a day of great sadness in a way because it would have been poor Ryan Hatch’s ride. What a shame for him,” said the ebullient trainer after the horse’s 17th win took career winnings passed £800,000.
“I have got to thank Andrew Nicholson, who has got his jumping right. He has got us helping The New One to keep going straight. You could never make the running with him before because he would jump to the right but he didn’t do it today. The way we rode him today, out in front, is what he wants.
“He is an extraordinary horse. He cost me £20,000 and has won over £800,000 – what a lovely horse. The abandonment at Exeter was the best abandonment that ever happened and I must send them a Christmas card! Chasing is well out of my mind now, at least until next year.
“We will go for the Champion Hurdle and why not? He is probably not quite good enough now but he certainly was three seasons ago, when he was unlucky not to win. He has different riding tactics and, now that he is going straight, maybe he can do it.”
As for Johnson, he was quick to acknowledge the stricken Hatch, who remains in hospital in Bristol, and Twiston-Davies junior who advised on the horse’s quirks.
He said: “Sam told me how to ride him and Nigel said that he definitely stays well and I should make it a test. From two hurdles out, he kept finding. He has a new bit and it definitely seems to have kept him a bit straighter and he has really jumped the last two quick and well.
“He won as a novice over two miles and five furlongs, so they have always known that he stays well. As he is getting older, he has probably lost a little of his speed, so Nigel told me to be positive.
“It’s the third time that he has won this race and very few horses can do that and be at this level for so long. It was a great decision to run him here today.”
As for Twiston-Davies junior who suffered serious spleen injuries in a fall at the beginning of October, he had the consolation of victory in the earlier Caspian Caviar Gold Cup on the Nicholls-trained four-year-old Frodon.
Just his second win since returning to the saddle, it was a welcome confidence boost for the jockey. “It is important for me, especially coming back from injury, to get a big one on the board so I couldn’t be happier,” said the jockey.
“We jumped the last really nicely and I thought: ‘Here we go, we have just got to keep going’ – but the trouble is, with the ground is like this, it is a long old run-in. You are just always waiting for something to come but Frodon was very brave and kept battling on well.”