Cheltenham International: Triumph for Nicholls as Zarkandar takes the StanJames.com International Hurdle

Zarkandar provides Walsh with food for thoughtProbably the race of the weekend, with only seven runners (three of them leading contenders for the Champion Hurdle in March), the StanJames.com International Hurdle saw  Zarkandar hit the front from Rock On Ruby just before the last hurdle. The horse powered up to hill to hold a late challenge from Grandouet by two lengths, with a tiring Rock On Ruby finishing a further six lengths back in third. To be fair to the second and third placed horses, they were giving 4lb to Zarkandar and both were coming back from a long absence. Grandouet had not run since winning this race last year due to an infected fetlock joint. Last years Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby hadn’t run since Aintree in April, when he ran third to Oscar Whisky. Both horses were entitled to come on for the run, but you couldn’t help but be impressed by the Paul Nicholls trained Zarkandar who looked a much stronger horse this year, and a live contender for the hurdling crown in March.

It had been a mixed week of triumph and tragedy for Paul and his staff at Ditcheat, starting with the sad and well publicized departure of the much loved Kauto Star from the yard, followed by the loss of Cristal Bonus who was fatally injured in the Paul Stewart Ironspine charity Gold Cup. Nicholls won the aforesaid race with the 4yo Unioniste, the only 4yo to win in the history of the race formerly known as the Massey Ferguson  and first run in 1963.

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