Paul Nicholls insists it should be no concern to Zarkandar’s supporters that jockey Ruby Walsh has once again chosen to side with Hurricane Fly in the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Walsh, the stable jockey to both Nicholls and Willie Mullins, rode Zarkandar to win the International at Cheltenham earlier in the season, but deserted him in the last Champion in favour of the defending champion Hurricane Fly.
In the end, he managed to finish third, with Zarkandar fifth, but both Nicholls and Mullins believe their respective charges are different horses this time around.
Daryl Jacob is to take over on the former Triumph winner, having helped him through his final trial in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last weekend.
“I don’t look at it as Ruby deserting us, he was always going to ride Hurricane Fly. If, God forbid, anything happened to Hurricane Fly, Ruby is the stable jockey and he’d step in on Zarkandar.
“But they both get on well with the horse, they are both great lads and it won’t be an advantage to have either Daryl or Ruby on board.”
Nicholls paraded Zarkandar at his stables yesterday and is pleased to have enjoyed a clear and unbeaten run with the gelding. He is one of a trio jostling for position as second favourite to the now 6-4 shot Hurricane Fly.
“He had a tiny fracture in a hind leg last year, we had to rush to get him back for the Betfair Hurdle, which he won, but he was nowhere near himself in the Champion Hurdle last year,” Nicholls said. “He’s in a great place now, and I’d like to see the ground on the slow side for him as the Champion Hurdle course is a lot sharper than the other course.
“He loves Cheltenham and I’d say there’s not a lot between Hurricane Fly, my lad, Rock On Ruby and, possibly, Grandouet.”
Nicholls confirmed Walsh will be aboard the stable’s other stand-out Festival hope, Silviniaco Conti, in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup following wins in the Charlie Hall Chase and the Betfair Chase already this season.