The New One goes for back-to-back victories in the Dunraven Group Welsh Champion Hurdle on his first run of the season at Ffos Las on Saturday.
The popular 10-year-old is rated 1lb lower than he was 12 months ago, when 5lb-claiming amateur Zac Baker guided him to victory. He is back in the saddle for the first time since.
That was not the only time he got his head in front last term, as he also took Haydock’s Champion Hurdle Trial for the fourth year running.
Stepping him up to three miles for the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham did not work and he was pulled up in the Aintree Hurdle in his last start.
However, trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies reports The New One to be in good form and is looking forward to getting him back on the track in this limited handicap.
“Everything’s fine with him,” said Twiston-Davies.
“He had a good summer and has been back in early July, so he should be fit enough.”
Ch’tibello was second to The New One at Haydock on January and is one of two runners from the Dan Skelton along with County Hurdle winner Mohaayed.
“Both seem well, but Ch’tibello just hard a hard season last year. I think we’ve got to lower our sights,” said Skelton.
“Mohaayed is in good form, he’ll like the ground. He’s fairly fit and I think he’s got a chance. Obviously he’s not been seen since the County Hurdle.”
Evan Williams saddled the runner-up Clyne last year and takes on The New One this time with Silver Streak, who won the Swinton Hurdle at Haydock in May.
“It seems a nice place to start and it’s only down the road,” said the Llancarfan trainer.
“He always promised to win a good race. He was progressive last year and deserved to win a quality race, so that job was done.
“Whether he can take the rise in class as he goes up the weights is there to be seen, but we thought we’d try handicap hurdles and see where we plateau.
“He had a good, long summer and looks very well. I’m very happy with him.”
Le Prezien is a fascinating contender from the Paul Nicholls stable.
Winner of the Grand Annual Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, he is having his first run over the smaller obstacles since finishing second to Yorkhill in the Grade One Mersey Novices’ Hurdle at Aintree in April 2016.
It is a similar scenario with Ozzie The Oscar, who has been successfully campaigned over fences by Philip Hobbs since finishing fifth in this race last year.
He will be ridden by champion jockey Richard Johnson, who told his Betway blog: “The main reason I am heading to Ffos Las is to ride Ozzie The Oscar for Philip in the Welsh Champion Hurdle.
“He’s a horse that has really improved and surprised us a little at how well he did over fences, winning his last couple of races at Warwick in good style.
“This looks the perfect starting point for him this season as he is obviously now better treated over hurdles than fences when it comes to marks.
“The fact The New One has stood his ground off top-weight means he has a nice racing weight and hopefully he can go well.”
The Colin Tizzard-trained Sizing Granite had run sixth in the Punchestown Gold Cup before being well-beaten in the Swinton.
Matt Sheppard’s Rock On Rocky, who completes the field, has been exclusively running over fences for nearly two years.