The New One perhaps should have won the Champion Hurdle in the past but Willie Mullins has that race just about covered this year so the horse could still go down the stayer’s route. He runs in the Champion Hurdle trial at Haydock but Annie Power and Faugheen dominate the market for the big race at Cheltenham having won it over the last two seasons for the Irish champion trainer.
Un De Sceaux is the favourite for the Clarence House Chase at Ascot for Mullins but Ar Mad could upset the form book and enhance his claims for the Champion Chase. Douvan is the odds-on favourite for that race and could start one of the shortest horses in one of the championship races. Ar Mad can make an impact on the market with an impressive win at Ascot. Un De Sceaux is the horse to beat but Ar Mad can step up to the plate and make a statement about the Champion Chase.
The Peter Marsh Handicap Chase at Haydock is often a Grand National trial but this year Alary could win the race and become a live outsider for the Gold Cup. The horse is trained by Colin Tizzard who could have five runners in the most important chase of the season. The trainer has been complimentary about Alary but only he knows how good the horse is relative to Thistlecrack, Native River and the rest.
After a lull in proceedings following the Christmas programme the countdown to Cheltenham really begins. There are key trails for the Festival at Ascot and Haydock and there are bound to be some market movers after Saturday’s action. Ante post betting is fraught with danger but the concession of non runner/no bet is beginning to appear for the major races at the Festival in March. That means if a horse you back ante post does not run you will get your money back which takes away the risk.
Cheltenham dominates National Hunt racing like no other event in any sport. The four days that matter most have become huge in the context of the jumps season. However, with many of the best horses concentrated with a few owners there are only rare clashes before Cheltenham. Faugheen and Annie Power have not even run this season never mind appeared in the same race. The owner Rich Ricci likes to keep his horses apart but both are entered for the Champion Hurdle.
The New One is trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and the horse is the trainer’s pride and joy. He has never given up on the dream of winning the Champion Hurdle and believes his stalwart does not need to step up in trip. In the 2014 Champion Hurdle The New One was impeded when Our Conor fell but could not make up the ground and Jezki won the race. He has had three goes at the Champion but the Irish contingent look too strong. However, The New One can win the Haydock trial.
Ar Mad is an exciting prospect but now is the time to deliver if that potential is to be realised. The horse was beaten by three and a half lengths by Un De Sceaux in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown so has a few lengths to find off the same weight. Ar Mad stormed into the lead at Sandown but jumping errors cost him the race. However, he was still going well at the finish and given good jumping can reverse the form with Un de Sceaux and then give Douvan something to think about.
Alary has been backed for the Gold Cup after Tizzard said some nice things about the horse. The seven-year-old was been placed in two of France’s most important jumps races last year but it’s difficult to assess the form. His trainer in France is confident the fences at Haydock will not be an issue. They used to be the nearest thing to the unique Grand National fences but they have been modified and are now just normal park fences.
Alary has bigger fish to fry than the National and if he can concede weight and win the Peter Marsh Chase an entry in the Gold Cup is on the cards. The New One and Ar Mad are looking to become factors in the Champion Hurdle and Champion Chase on a day that will provide clues for the 2017 Cheltenham Festival.