Zarkandar bounces back from Cheltenham defeat with Aintree Hurdle winPICTURE: Martin Lynch (racingpost.com/photos)
Zarkandar holds off new order in thrilling finish
Report: Aintree, Thursday
John Smith's Aintree Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m4f, 4yo+
ANOTHER majestic ride by Ruby Walsh and the fitting of blinkers worked the trick for Zarkandar as the Paul Nicholls-trained six-year-old saw off the novice The New One by a half length.
Thousand Stars ran another cracking race in this event to finish a close-up third, while the winner for the last two years, Oscar Whisky, was fourth.
The race lived up to its billing in every way in what was a thrilling contest, and the winning rider was grateful for Nicholls for giving him free rein as regards tactics.
"I got to the start and there was no pace so I made my own plan and I knew it would be okay by Paul - that's the lucky position I'm in," he said.
Walsh was his usual brilliant self on the 11-2 shot, making the running in a race where there was no obvious front-runner. He dictated the fractions perfectly so that when The New One came to him coming to the last he had enough in reserve to just see him off.
Nicholls soon confirmed that the blinkers had made a big difference to this horse, who has never been the sweetest of travellers.
"I just felt in the Champion Hurdle he gave up easy enough," Nicholls said. "I worked him last Saturday and he was very ordinary, so on Tuesday we worked him in the blinkers and it was like watching two different horses."
Indeed Zarkandar did seem a shade lacklustre in the Champion Hurdle, where he finished fourth, but the extra half-mile certainly helped here as he was never going flat out until the closing stages. Now his trainer has plans to go up further in trip. "He will definitely step up to three miles next year," he said.
Reacting to that news, Paddy Power now make Zarkandar a 5-1 chance (from 10-1) for next year's Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
The Champion Hurdle still looks a realistic target for The New One, who lost little in defeat here. Things could have gone better for Nigel Twiston-Davies's five-year-old as he made a few mistakes, including a bad one at the second, but he was still the last one off the bridle and fought all the way to the line. He remains a contender for top honours with another year on his back and his trainer certainly seems to think so.
"I'm delighted. For a five-year-old novice taking on the older horses he's had the race won everywhere but the line," said Twiston-Davies. "The others better watch out next year. He's definitely up to Champion Hurdle class and we've got ourselves a very nice horse."