By Simon Jackson.
Paul Nicholls has a strong hand in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle where he saddles joint-favourites Saphir Du Rheu and Zarkandar in the three mile staying-hurdlers’ championship on Thursday.
Zarkandar, a half-brother to the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe winner Zarkava, landed the Triumph Hurdle in 2011 and surged to the forefront of the betting for this year’s World Hurdle after a five-length victory in the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil in November.
The eight-year-old was beaten a head by Reve De Sivola when last seen out in the Grade 1 JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December, while Saphir Du Rheu narrowly beat the same horse in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in late January.
“Zarkandar won the JCB Triumph Hurdle four years ago and has had a great season, winning the French Champion Hurdle in the autumn very nicely and getting beaten a short-head in the Long Walk at Ascot when pulling himself up in front,” Nicholls said at an organised stable visit two weeks ago.
“We have kept him fresh for Cheltenham this year on purpose as he is so much better when fresh. He worked very well at Wincanton 10 days ago and looks great. I think he has a fantastic chance.”
“Saphir Du Rheu ended up last season rated 165 over hurdles. He went chasing and unfortunately parted company with Sam [Twiston-Davies] first time, won well at Exeter and then had a fall at Kempton over Christmas.
“We thought, as he is still a young horse and the World Hurdle is wide open, we would try him back over hurdles. He won the Cleeve Hurdle and stayed on really strongly up the hill which has put him in the forefront of the betting for the World Hurdle.
“He gallops and jumps and I think there is a lot of improvement to come. It was his first proper race for a while and I am very pleased with him at the moment.”
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