sport

Zarkandar 'in a great place'

Paul Nicholls insists it's no conern that Ruby Walsh has chosen to side with Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle.

Walsh, the stable jockey to both Nicholls and Willie Mullins, rode Zarkandar to win the International at Cheltenham earlier in the season, but deserted him in the last Champion in favour of the defending champion Hurricane Fly.

In the end, he managed to finish third, with Zarkandar fifth, but both Nicholls and Mullins believe their respective charges are different horses this time around.

Daryl Jacob is to take over on the former Triumph winner, having helped him through his final trial in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton last weekend.

"I don't look at it as Ruby deserting us, he was always going to ride Hurricane Fly. If, God forbid, anything happened to Hurricane Fly then Ruby is the stable jockey and he'd step in on Zarkandar.

"But they both get on well with the horse, they are both great lads and it won't be an advantage to have either Daryl or Ruby on board."

Nicholls paraded Zarkandar at his stables on Wednesday and is pleased to have enjoyed a clear and unbeaten run with the gelding.

He is one of a trio jostling for position as second favourite to the now 6/4 shot Hurricane Fly.

"He had a tiny fracture in a hind leg last year, we had to rush to get him back for the Betfair Hurdle, which he won, but he was nowhere near himself in the Champion Hurdle last year," Nicholls said.

"He's in a great place now, and I'd like to see the ground on the slow side for him as the Champion Hurdle course is a lot sharper than the other course.

"He loves Cheltenham and I'd say there's not a lot between Hurricane Fly, my lad, Rock On Ruby and, possibly, Grandouet."

Walsh will certainly be aboard the stable's other stand-out Festival hope, Silviniaco Conti, in the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Nicholls decided the chestnut should miss Cheltenham during his novice season in favour of Aintree, but he has risen right through the ranks this term in landing the Charlie Hall, beating Long Run in the Betfair Chase and enjoying a smooth third success in the Denman at Newbury.

"I left plenty to work on at Newbury and I was really pleased with him," Nicholls said.

"I keep reading that he can't win at Cheltenham because he hasn't won at Cheltenham, but there's never been a chase for him.

"He ran well in the Bula over hurdles there and has been round loads of tracks."

Reflecting on the event itself, he said: "My view is that the three novices - Bobs Worth, Silviniaco Conti and Sir Des Champs - could be the three.

"Long Run you can't rule out but those novices might be the ones that move forward.

"I think we're going there with a nice chance. I'm not going thinking he's going to win, but he goes there with a chance of winning.

"We're happy where we are at the moment."