Read a verdict on the four contenders plus watch vital galloping clues ahead of the Grade Two feature at Haydock on Saturday.
The Cheltenham Festival is less than eight weeks away and Saturday’s The New One Unibet Hurdle at Haydock Park seeks to serve as an informative trial for the two-mile hurdling championship at the meeting, the £450,000 Unibet Champion Hurdle.
The race is named in honour of the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained The New One, who was a four-time winner of this race and finished third in the 2014 edition of the Champion Hurdle.
Other previous winners of the contest include Al Eile, Inglis Drever, Rooster Booster and Relkeel. Is a potential Champion Hurdle winner lurking in this year’s field? We have analysed the chances of all nine potential runners.
Official rating: 153. Trainer: Nicky Henderson. General odds: 6-4.
Pentland Hills shaped encouragingly in the International Hurdle on his seasonal debut
Still well touted for the Champion Hurdle, last year’s Triumph Hurdle hero shaped encouragingly on his return to action in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December.
Having pulled hard, the petrol gauge was empty from the back of the final hurdle, but he will strip fitter for that, and Seven Barrows maestro Henderson is adamant he is a lively player for the Festival in March.
Very testing conditions would be a slight concern, but he retains plenty of scope for further improvement and to have any chance at Prestbury Park in March, he needs to be playing a leading role here.
Official rating: 159. Trainer: Micky Hammond. General odds: 5-1.
A stable star for Micky Hammond, who backed up a pair of handicap hurdle victories at Catterick and Wetherby with a shock defeat of Buveur D’Air in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November.
Entered for the Champion Hurdle, this race has been the plan since and he also brings course and distance form to the table, having won on heavy ground at Haydock in December 2018.
The son of Delegator will clearly therefore relish testing conditions and in his current vein of form, he is hard to rule out, particularly if getting an easy lead out in front.
Official rating: 155. Trainer: Nigel Twiston-Davies. General odds: 9-2.
Ballyandy finished third in the Christmas Hurdle last time out
He was suited by the quick tempo of the race when a good second in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham and also when third to Champion Hurdle favourite Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle.
He has winning form on testing ground and was earmarked as a possible Stayers’ Hurdle candidate at the beginning of the season, highlighting his stamina-laden qualities.
However, you have always been left with the impression that he is just short of top-class and whilst he has the right attributes to once again be placed in a Graded contest, it is difficult to fancy him landing this pot, given he consistently finds one too good.
Official rating: 156. Trainer: Joseph O’Brien. General odds: 5-1.
Darasso is a fascinating contender for J P McManus and Joseph O’Brien who has been seen since following up his victory in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park in February, with success over fences in Grade Two company at Navan in March.
Entered for the Champion Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, it will be interesting to see what route connections decide to go down.
The son of Konig Turf brings interesting form to the table and remains unexposed having had just four runs for O’Brien since joining the yard from Guy Cherel.
He boasts winning form on heavy ground in France, but looks best watched on his return to action.
A fascinating renewal in which Pentland Hills will look to get back on track with a clear-cut victory before a tilt at the Champion Hurdle in March.
However, very testing ground conditions would surely have to be a concern for the son of Motivator and that worry slightly tempers enthusiasm. CORNERSTONE LAD loves the mud and will have no such worries.
He produced a career-best to land the Fighting Fifth and providing that race has not left its mark, conditions and a liking of this track are certainly in his favour.
Ballyandy is more than capable of filling the places once again, but perhaps lacks the class to capture a race of this nature, whilst Irish raider Darasso would be a fascinating contender if lining up. With concerns surrounding some of his rivals, Cornerstone Lad could turn out to be the safest option in an open event.
1. CORNERSTONE LAD. 2. PENTLAND HILLS. 3. BALLYANDY.
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