As fascinating as the emergence of fresh equine talent to watch is the blossoming of one of the human elements of the centaur partnership, and yesterday’s programme at Cheltenham presented both.
The New One consolidated his position as favourite to deprive reigning king, Hurricane Fly, of a third Champion Hurdle back at the course in March and his rider, Sam Twiston-Davies, once again demonstrated that he will surely one day wear a crown of his own.
There will, of course, only ever be one Tony McCoy, and while he is fit, healthy and willing no one will deprive him of anything. But at 21 Twiston-Davies is the right age and has the right aptitudes and attitude to in due course inherit his title. The modest young man has all the obvious skills that make him both a horseman and a jockey – he is quiet and balanced in the saddle with an understanding of race- manship that is expanding with every ride – and with them perhaps an echo of the 18-times champion’s sometimes frustrated self-analysis.
The New One took the StanJames.com International Hurdle by six lengths from proven high-class yardstick Zarkandar, winner of the Grade Two contest last season and fourth in the Champion itself. But Twiston-Davies considered that the five-year-old, whose bunny-hop over the last obstacle gave his supporters a moment of anxiety, won despite, rather than because of, his tactics.
“I’m really annoyed with myself,” he said. “Beforehand I had said that the one thing I wouldn’t do was hit the front before the last, and that’s exactly what I did. He didn’t have a lead and it was more a case of trying to get from A to B over it rather than trying to see a stride, but we got the result. But thank goodness the horse is very good and has so much boot. And when I gave him a kick in the belly off he went. We got the result and other than the last I was pleased with the way he jumped.”
Zarkandar, who had last season beaten The New One – then a novice – at Aintree, had made much of the running until his rival, the 2-5 favourite, cruised past him. He had been involved in a scrimmage with the 100-1 outsider Jumps Road going to the final obstacle and had rallied bravely to close on the idling leader after it, but his rider, Daryl Jacob, put it all in perspective. “The barging incident did put him off his stride,” he said, “but with regard to the winner, there is no way I’d have got to him anyway.”
The New One, an Irish-bred son of King’s Theatre, may put his rising senior status to further test sooner rather than later, against another of the upwardly mobile younger brigade, My Tent Or Yours, in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton in 12 days’ time. “There are not that many races for him before Cheltenham and I’d like to get at least one more run into him before Cheltenham,” his trainer, Sam’s father, Nigel, said.
“It didn’t seem he had that hard a race here and he’ll tell us if he’s ready to go again or not. I loved the way he quickened away when the other horse got to him again, that was real Champion Hurdle-type acceleration. A lot of the interest in him has been hype, but I think he’s proved today what he is.”
Rather grimly, The New One surged to his authoritative victory past the other side of the sport’s coin, high green screens shielding the stricken French challenger Seabreeze d’Ho, who had fallen and sustained what proved to be fatal injuries in front of the grandstands on the first circuit.
Though Twiston-Davies Jnr rides mostly for T-D Snr, this season his talents have caught eyes away from home and his employers’ portfolio is expanding. But yesterday was a father-and-son afternoon, with The New One’s performance completing a feature-race double instigated by 7-1 shot Double Ross in the Grade Three handicap chase.
It was Twiston-Davies Snr’s 18th attempt to capture his local track’s valuable December prize and owes much to his offspring’s stickability as he and Double Ross, who held Cantlow at bay by two lengths, with the 9-2 favourite Colour Squadron third, disagreed about the take-off point four fences from home.
“He’s a very good jumper,” the rider said, “and his mistake was totally my fault and he was good to stay on his feet for me. I thought he was long, but he knew best.”