Having handed Paul Nicholls four Grade 1 wins during his career, including a Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and April’s Aintree Hurdle, any comparisons to Zarkandar coming out of the Manor Farm stable must be taken note of.
It seems that Zarkandar-types are commonplace in Nicholls’ yard though. As the 2016 Festival creeps closer, the Ditcheat trainer is tripping over himself to find the latest version of the Irish nine-year-old.
Nicholls’ yard is responsible for seven of this year’s 54 early entries into the Triumph, but has compared two of that tally to Zarkandar in the lead up to the race.
Following on from likening 9/1 ante-post hope Connetable to his former star after he won the Listed Contenders Hurdle at Sandown at the start of the month, Nicholls anointed Zubayr as Zarkandar mkII following the latter’s Adonis Juvenile Hurdle success at Kempton.
Winning from the back of the field under the stewardship of Nick Schofield at the Sunbury track, Zubayr drew favourable post-race comments from Nicholls as Ladbrokes cut him to 6/1 for the 2m 1f race on the Festival’s closing day.
This year’s Triumph is proving to be a wide-open ante-post affair, with many of the main players fluffing their lines in prep runs.
3/1 ante-post favourite Ivanovich Gorbatov was a disappointment at Leopardstown on the same day that Connetable landed the Contenders Hurdle, while Gibalfaro finished some nine lengths behind Zubayr at Kempton and was subsequently ruled out of the Triumph by trainer Alan King.
King does have a fancied entry in the form of Sceau Royal, who stands as a 7/1 Triumph chance with Ladbrokes, and will be looking to claim his first success in the Festival novice hurdle since 2007.
Unlike King, Nicholls has a more recent familiarity with winning the Triumph, having taken it with Zarkandar in 2011.
Speaking of Zubayr after his win, the trainer said: “He stays very well and I’m glad they went a good gallop. He’s a proper horse. I was thinking whatever won today would be favourite for the Triumph and that puts him right up there.”
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.