Zarkandar Takes The International Hurdle

Sat 15th Dec 2012, 15:32

Ruby Walsh rider of Zarkandar
©Healy Racing Photos
Zarkandar completed a fine afternoon's work for UK champion trainer Paul Nicholls when outstaying his rivals to win the Stanjames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Nicholls, on the mark with four winners at the meeting, had said before the contest that he hoped his charge's stamina and guaranteed fitness might come into play and that appeared to be the case as the 6/5 favourite knuckled down bravely to shrug off challenges from both Rock On Ruby and Grandouet.

It was the latter who was last to appear on the scene as Barry Geraghty tried to play his hand as late as possible, but Zarkandar and Ruby Walsh had enough up their sleeves to hold off his threat by two lengths.

Nicholls said: "I don't think he was himself last year, especially after he fell at Aintree and even two weeks before Wincanton (Elite Hurdle) I thought he'd have no chance of running well but he just suddenly picked up and was enjoying his schooling again.

"He's the right age and I think he's still improving. He'll probably go for the Kingwell

in February but I haven't made up my mind."

Zarkandar was ridden by Daryl Jacob in last season's Champion Hurdle, but Nicholls is hoping to persuade Walsh to be on the horse in this year's race.

"There's never a shortage of jockeys if Ruby wants to pick Hurricane Fly but this horse will have reminded him of his ability and we're really looking forward to March," he said.

Bookmakers Sky Bet reacted to the race by cutting both the winner and runner-up to 6/1 for the Champion Hurdle and pushing Rock On Ruby's odds out to 10/1.

Of Grandouet, who was giving 4lb to the winner, trainer Nicky Henderson said: "I want one more run into him before the Champion. I might look at the Kingwell but it depends what else looks like running there."

Rock On Ruby's trainer Harry Fry commented: "I think a combination of the ground and not having had a run has cost him, but Noel felt he was as good as ever and we might go straight to the Festival."

GRAND NATIONAL - The Northern Challenge

The Sue Smith-trained Auroras Encore was the last northern-trained horse to win the Grand National back in 2013 but recent victories for that part of the country have been thin on the ground since the likes of Lucius, Rubstic and Hallo Dandy in the late 70s early 80’s showed that steeplechasing was in a healthy state north of the Watford Gap with the likes of Gordon W Richards, Denys Smith, Arthur Stephenson, Peter Easterby and Jimmy Fitzgerald capable of holding their own against their southern and Irish counterparts.

THE IRISH TIMES