Zarkandar must win at Cheltenham to be Champion Hurdle contender

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The International Hurdle at Cheltenham looks a useful guide to the Champion Hurdle later this season, but the truth is that if Zarkandar fails to win, it is hard to see him reversing form in March.

Zarkandar is the 1/1 favourite to win the International Hurdle and there are four big plus points as to why he can beat chief rivals Rock On Ruby and Grandouet.

The big advantage is that he is running off 4lb less than the duo.

Zarkandar finished six lengths behind Rock On Ruby in the last Champion Hurdle off level weights and this shift in weights can help bridge this gap.

Furthermore, the majority of Paul Nicholls’ horses were woefully out of form at the Festival, meaning Zarkandar should be a fair bit better here.

On the other hand, Rock On Ruby, who was trained under Nicholls’ name but at a different yard, ran the race of his life to win and all eight Champion Hurdle victors that have attempted to win this in the following season since 1982 have all failed.

The second advantage for Zarkandar is that he has already had a race this season to shake off any summer cobwebs.

Grandouet missed Cheltenham because of injury and this will be his first race for over a year. There is a strong possibility that he will improve for the run and is likely to be the horse to focus on from this race later in the season.

Rock On Ruby tends to perform well when making a seasonal reappearance, but has been beaten on both previous starts over 2m1f.

The other two areas that favour Zarkandar are in trends from the last decade, with seven favourites triumphing in this period.

Meanwhile, another seven winners have carried 11st 4lb to victory, which is the weight allocated to Zarkandar.

Rock On Ruby is 7/4 to win the International Hurdle, with Grandouet 5/2 and 50/1 bar for the remaining six entrants.

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.