Nicholls may have next Sanctuaire with Ptit Zig in Fred Winter

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Paul Nicholls has proved a dab hand with French-bred novice hurdlers with minimal British racing experience at previous Cheltenham Festivals and this makes Ptit Zig a major danger in the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle.

Despite having just one run on these shores, Ptit Zig is joint favourite for the Fred Winter at 8/1 and five of the last eight winners have either been French bred or a French import.

Nicholls’ most memorable type like this was Zarkandar back in 2011, who went on to win the Triumph Hurdle on the back of one British start.

However, when searching for a direct comparison to Ptit Zig, punters should look no further than Sanctuaire, who landed the Fred Winter back in 2010.

Having had two winless starts at Auteuil in France, Sanctuaire arrived at Taunton and won with plenty in hand, beating another rookie in Grands Crus that day.

Then off a mark of 127, he romped to victory in the Fred Winter by nine lengths.

Ptit Zig has only been raised 4lb to 130 for his debut victory in Britain and this looks lenient given the way he bounded clear after the final hurdle.

He tanked through his victory at Ludlow and should relish a quick pace at Cheltenham, while it would be no surprise if he improved far more than 4lb for his debut for the Nicholls yard.

Another boost to his chances would be if Ruby Walsh took the ride, although Nicholls has another French import in fellow 8/1 Fred Winter joint favourite Saphir Du Rheu.

In total, Walsh arguably has a pick between six of the top nine horses in the betting, with Willie Mullins also holding some strong cards with Djakadam and Fatcatinthehat.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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Craig Kemp

Craig has written for Ladbrokes since the 2010 World Cup, having previously gained a Media & Sports Journalism degree and contributed to publications including the Racing Post. His main areas of interest are horse racing and UFC, but he is also an avid X Factor gambler and likes nothing more than indulging in a spot of Hip Hop Karaoke.