Zarkandar, the apparent main danger to the mighty Hurricane Fly in the forthcoming Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on March 13, is reportedly fully recovered from the bout of coughing that he picked up in the aftermath of his stunning win in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury last month and is bang on target to go head-to-head with the Willie Mullins-trained reigning champion, writes Elliot Slater.
The unbeaten five-year-old produced a remarkable performance at Newbury on his first outing of the campaign, looking beaten going to the second from home as a wall of horses passed him before rallying in tremendously game fashion under a great ride from Ruby Walsh to get up close home to beat Get Me Out Of Here in a race that will live long in the memory. People searching for Cheltenham free bets online will be hoping he can reach that sort of form again.
On returning home champion trainer Paul Nicholls noted that Zarkandar had begun coughing, (in common with a number of his stable companions at the time), and duly had the vet place Zarkandar on a six-day course of antibiotics which appear to have done the trick and returned the half-brother to the unbeaten Flat sensation Zarkava to full health. Now back in training and reportedly working well, the son of Azamour is a rock solid 5/1 joint second-favourite with former champion Binocular in a market dominated by the presence of last year’s winner Hurricane Fly, imperious in victory on his seasonal return at Leopardstown in January in the Irish Champion Hurdle and currently a red-hot 4/5 market leader to retain his crown.
Zarkandar won all three starts over timber last season, including landing the Grade 1 JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and then going on to score at Aintree the following month again in Grade 1 company, beating Alan King’s very useful Kumbeshwar by just over a length.