Zarkandar: for the Champion Hurdle following International Hurdle victoryPICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Nicholls lands four-timer with Zarkandar success
Report: Cheltenham, Saturday
Stanjames.com International Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m1f, new course
ZARKANDAR outstayed Grandouet and Rock On Ruby up the Cheltenham hill to give Paul Nicholls a fabulous four-timer on Saturday.
As expected, One Cool Shabra went off into the lead but was virtually ignored by the rest of the field as Zarkandar and Rock On Ruby raced alongside one another wider out with Grandouet tucked in behind.
The trio travelled strongly and quickly left the remainder of the field behind with Noel Fehily keen to keep his mount Rock On Ruby right alongside the favourite Zarkandar.
Running down the hill Zarkandar, the only one of the trio to have run this season, was the first to come under pressure with Ruby Walsh nudging and squeezing his mount along but, in typical style, he kept on well.
Rock On Ruby and Zarkandar cleared the last hurdle together, with Grandouet still waited with, and as Zarkandar kept grinding on Rock On Ruby finally cracked.
That left Grandouet as the only threat to Zarkandar completing a Nicholls four-timer after the wins of Far West, Shooters Wood and Unioniste, but giving 4lb away to his rival on his seasonal return proved too much and he could do no better than second.
Nicholls said: "I don't think he was ever right last season but that was a proper job today. He had his ears pricked and he doesn't want to be in front as far out as he had to be here. I won't run him again until Wincanton in February but I wouldn't be worried if I didn't run him again until the Champion."
Nicky Henderson thought the ground went against Grandouet and said: "Barry thought he was going to win a minute coming down the hill but he just got bogged down in that sticky ground. He will benefit for the outing but we are leaning at the moment towards not running again until the Champion."
Paddy Power cut Zarkandar to 7-1 (from 8) for the Champion Hurdle and Grandouet to 8-1 (from 10). BetVictor cut the winner to 6-1 (from 7) and the runner up to 7-1 (from 10).
Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby was pushed out to 12-1 (from 7) by William Hill and 8-1 (from 6) by BetVictor to defend his title at the Cheltenham Festival.
Also on Saturday:
Oscar Whisky: completed back-to-back wins in the Relkeel HurdlePICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Osborne House Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m4½f, 4yo+
OSCAR WHISKY made light work of his two rivals for a second consecutive win in the Relkeel Hurdle.
Barry Geraghty was quickly into stride on the 1-5 favourite, and despite Noel Fehily's best efforts to stalk the winner on Crack Away Jack, Oscar Whisky was just too strong, stretching clear up the home straight.
Trainer Nicky Henderson said: "When he goes a decent gallop like that how can he not get three miles? I still can't have it - and don't worry we are not saying we are going three-mile hurdling again because we are not, but I can't believe there wasn't something wrong with him that day in March."
The World Hurdle fifth was cut to 12-1 (from 14) by Coral for the Champion Hurdle, while Paddy Power left him unchanged at 14-1.