Trainer Paul Nicholls feels Zarkandar is right back where he wants him after the five-year-old outpointed stablemate Prospect Wells in the totepool.com Elite Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday.
Fifth in last season’s Champion Hurdle and a faller when previously seen in action at Aintree, the diminutive Zarkandar (100-30) showed with a determined display under Daryl Jacob that, in a tight situation, class will out.
It was a perfect start to the campaign for Jacob, who because Ruby Walsh is expected to ride Hurricane Fly throughout the season, is set to be aboard Zarkandar for all his races.
Despite giving his rival 17lb, Zarkandar cruised up to join Prospect Wells (2-1 favourite) still on the bridle two flights from home, and buckled down on the run-in to resist the latter’s final thrust under Walsh by a neck.
Nicholls was all praise for the winner, who was cut to 10-1 from 12s for the Champion Hurdle by William Hill.
The Ditcheat trainer said: “He’s done well, real well, and I never had him looking as good as this for the whole of last season.
“For him he looks big and well, and in the last fortnight he’s just suddenly picked up. Ruby thought the 17lb would swing it and I told the owners that win, lose or draw he would come on for the run.
“Zarkandar will now go for the Bula [the International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December] and we’re right back where we want to be with him. The Bula is the race we’ve been training him for.
“Then we’ll look to bring him back here for the Kingwell in the new year. Prospect Wells is a rattling good handicapper and will win a nice race.”
Nicholls completed a double when the Walsh-ridden Foggy’s Wall (9-2) grittily held God’s Own in the bumper.
Nicholls said: “He won’t run for six weeks, then he’ll go hurdling. I’m in no rush with him at all.”
The Package staked an early claim for the Hennessy Gold Cup as he fought off Michel Le Bon to land the Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase for David Pipe and Timmy Murphy.
The nine-year-old cruised to the front approaching the cross-fence five out, and from then was always in charge, even though Walsh and Michel Le Bon never gave up the chase.
Nicholashayne handler Pipe sees the 5-1 winner as the yard’s main John Smith’s Grand National hope and said: “He’s really a National horse, but he’s in the Hennessy and we’ll have to look at that. He’s always been a very good horse, and Timmy has ridden a perfect race although the ground was probably softer than ideal.”
Houblon Des Obeaux (9-1) made all for Venetia Williams and Aidan Coleman in the totepool Rising Stars Novices’ Chase.
Measuring his fences with accuracy, the five-year-old benefited from the jumping deficiencies of Aegean Dawn (unseated rider second) and Court In Motion (bad mistake middle fences down back) to come home four and a half lengths clear of Poungach, who rallied to catch Court In Motion for second.
Coleman said: “He jumped for fun and will do even better over a longer trip. If he carries on along this path he could be an RSA Chase type.” Coral gave the winner a 25-1 quote for the RSA.
Fairy Rath was gameness personified in making every yard of the totepool Mobile Text Tote To 89660 Handicap Chase. The Nick Gifford-trained six-year-old ran virtually to the pound with Henry San as he turned round recent Chepstow placings with that rival under Denis O’Regan.
Fairy Rath (5-1) is owned by talk show host Jeremy Kyle’s wife, Carla, who was in Barbados watching the race with top owner Andy Stewart.
Miss Milborne (13-2) took the spoils in a Bet totequadpot Test Tote To 89660 Mares’ Handicap Hurdle in which five of the ten-strong field were line-abreast approaching the final flight.
Kings Lad helped make it a red-letter week for Colin and Joe Tizzard when he floored 2-7 favourite Mr Mole in the Bet totescoop6 Text Tote To 89660 EBF ‘National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle at Wincanton.
Fresh from their Haldon Gold Cup triumph with Cue Card at Exeter, the father and son trainer/jockey combination can do little wrong and Kings Lad (5-1) defied connections’ belief that he would improve for the outing.