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Back festival fav The New One before he bolts round Cheltenham

Seven horses are set to compete in this weekend’s big race, the International Hurdle at Cheltenham, but the market believes only two runners have a realistic chance of taking this valuable renewal.

A good run is expected from Paul Nicholls’ prolific six-year-old Zarkandar – a winner eight times over the small obstacles – after a stout second-place finish on his seasonal reappearance behind Willie Mullins’ Annie Power last month in Ascot’s Coral Hurdle.

The gelding is 11/4 to win for the third time in five trips around Prestbury Park, but all eyes will be watching Nigel Twiston-Davies’ 2/5 favourite The New One in this clash.

Zarkandar beat The New One by half a length off level weights at Aintree’s Grand National meeting back in April, but the five-year-old son of King’s Theatre was still a novice at that stage and lost little in defeat.

The younger horse devoured a small field on his seasonal reappearance at Kempton in October, seeing off 2012 Champion Hurdle king Rock on Ruby by a whopping 10 lengths.

The New One has shown so much improvement of late that he is currently the favourite at 7/2 to take that particular prize at the Cheltenham Festival in four months, a price that would surely wither should Twiston-Davies’ star live up to his trainer’s bullish billing.

Of the outsider’s, Evan Williams’ six-year-old Court Minstrel has an outside chance of running into a place at 16/1 if he can recapture his Scottish Champion Hurdle form from last spring, when Adam Wedge steered him to a two and a half length win over joint-favourite Sametegal.

Regular jockey Paul Moloney is back on board here and if Court Minstrel can put his two below-par runs so far this season down to practice, he could capitalise on any troubles the top two in the betting encounter.