Zarkandar is almost guaranteed to give a better account of himself in the Champion Hurdle this year compared to last, but whether the old course at Cheltenham truly plays to his strengths remains to be seen.
Paul Nicholls’ runner has won on seven of his nine starts in England, with the two blips coming when falling in last season’s Aintree Hurdle and when only fifth in the Champion Hurdle 12 months ago.
However, his preparation for that contest was far from ideal with some of the Nicholls team impacted by a cough in the build up for Cheltenham, which went on to impact their Festival performances.
There have been no such setbacks this year, with Zarkandar winning on both his starts, which have caused his Champion Hurdle price to shorten to 5/1 second favourite behind 2011 winner Hurricane Fly.
Furthermore, he is rated 6lb better than when heading into the race last year, which also suggests he is a better horse.
The one sticking point is that his win in the International Hurdle in December was on the new course at Cheltenham, which is better suited to his battling qualities.
The old course is sharper in its bends and with the final turn closer to the winning post, there is slightly more emphasis on finishing speed as runners do not tend to maintain a full gallop into this turn.
Meanwhile, the newer course is almost a furlong longer and it is fair to say that Zarkandar is not the quickest over 2m in the Champion Hurdle field if the latter stages descended into a full on sprint.
It is widely considered that the International Hurdle leans more on a horse’s stamina than the Champion Hurdle.
This is not to say that Zarkandar can’t win the Champion Hurdle, but if Grandouet turns up fully fit, he could be a better bet at 8/1.
Grandouet chased home Zarkandar in the International Hurdle, but will be 4lb better off at the Festival, more race fit from his previous run and should find the old course more to his liking.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.