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Ready to take it to a New level for International success

NIGEL TWISTON-DAVIES expects The New One to show further progress when he puts his huge reputation on the line in the StanJames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon.

The five-year-old was a brilliant winner of the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in the spring and signed off his campaign when narrowly beaten by Zarkandar in the Aintree Hurdle.

He is a long odds-on favourite to turn the tables on the same rival today, having annihilated 2012 Champion Hurdle hero Rock On Ruby on his seasonal return at Kempton in October. While Twiston-Davies has been pleased with his stable star since, he is anticipating further improvement between now and the Champion Hurdle in March. The Naunton handler said: "I expect he will improve again for this run and we'll get this out of the way before we make any other plans. There is rain forecast but that doesn't worry me. As long as it's not firm, he's fine."

The second favourite is the Paul Nicholls-trained Zarkandar, who ran a perfectly respectable race on his return to action when conceding lumps of weight to the exciting mare Annie Power in the Ascot Hurdle last month.

Nicholls said: "He'll definitely improve from that run at Ascot. He's not been beaten on the new track [New Course] at Cheltenham - it suits him much better than the old one that the Champion Hurdle is run on.

"The New One is a decent horse, but I don't know about the Kempton form. He looked good on the day but we'll know more today."

Court Minstrel is third in the betting for the Grade Two contest but some way adrift of the big two. He ran creditably when seventh in last month's Greatwood Hurdle at Prestbury Park but trainer Evan Williams admits third place is probably the best he can hope for here.

Meanwhile, in the Stewart Family Thank You Gold Cup, Emma Lavelle feels Easter Meteor deserves a change of luck after his last visit to Cheltenham when he fell at the penultimate fence while holding a narrow lead in the Paddy Power Gold Cup, won by Johns Spirit.

The seven-year-old showed no ill-effects from that mishap when finishing second to Cantlow at Newbury two weeks ago. The trainer said: "He's knocking on the door and it would be lovely if he could get his head in front."

Johns Spirit was raised 9lb for his Paddy Power victory over the strong-finishing Colour Squadron but jockey Richie McLernon expects another big run from Jonjo O'Neill's charge. He said. "Obviously the weights will be a bit of a factor but he's fit and well, so hopefully he'll go well.

David Pipe has his fingers crossed the five-year-old Kings Palace will cope with ground likely to be faster than ideal when he bids to complete a hat trick in the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle.

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