Trainer Paul Nicholls has talked up the chances of his World Hurdle hopeful Zarkandar for next month’s Cheltenham Festival.
The eight-year-old finished fourth in the race last year, but Nicholls admits he is the “best I have seen him for a long time” following a racecourse gallop at Wincanton.
Zarkandar looked destined to win the JLT Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot in December for Nicholls and jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, but he idled badly having travelled to the front over the final hurdle and was passed by the battling Reve De Sivola.
In spite of that blot on his copybook, the champion trainer feels he should be favourite for the staying championship contest at Cheltenham.
“I think Zarkandar should be favourite. He has solid form and he probably should have won at Ascot before Christmas when he pulled up in front,” Nicholls said.
“The more competitive race will suit him and he had a racecourse gallop at Wincanton on Wednesday and it was the best I have seen him for a long time.”
Nicholls believes the presence of former Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby in the race will ensure that Zarkandar has a good pace to aim at before being pushed much later than he was at Ascot.
“I feel that Rock On Ruby will give him a good lead into the race so he doesn’t have to get there too soon,” he added.
Nicholls is aiming to win the World Hurdle for a fifth time after Big Buck’s made the race his own with successive wins from 2009 to 2013.