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International rule for Zar

Zarkandar showed plenty of guts to cap a great day for Paul Nicholls with victory in the stanjames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Zarkandar showed plenty of guts to cap a great day for Paul Nicholls with victory in the stanjames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

In receipt of 4lb from the current champion hurdler Rock On Ruby and Grandouet, winner of this race last year, he was sent off the 6-5 favourite to give Nicholls a fifth winner on the afternoon.

Ruby Walsh was the first of the big three to come under pressure, with Noel Fehily and Barry Geraghty trying to conserve energy on Rock On Ruby and Grandouet respectively as they were both having their first run of the season.

In testing ground and up the famous hill it was Zarkandar who toughed it out, beating Grandouet, who ran a fine race on his first start for 12 months, by two lengths with Rock On Ruby fading late in the day.

Nicholls said: "I don't think he was himself last year, especially after he fell at Aintree and even two weeks before Wincanton (Elite Hurdle) I thought he'd have no chance of running well but he just suddenly picked up and was enjoying his schooling again.

"He's the right age and I think he's still improving.

"He'll probably go for the Kingwell in February but I haven't made up my mind.

"There's never a shortage of jockeys if Ruby wants to pick Hurricane Fly but this horse will have reminded him of his ability and we're really looking forward to March."

Nicky Henderson said of Grandouet: "I want one more run into him before the Champion. I might look at the Kingwell but it depends what else looks like running there."

Harry Fry said of Rock On Ruby: "I think a combination of the ground and not having had a run has cost him but Noel felt he was as good as ever and we might go straight to the Festival."