Zarkandar can shine
Our horse-by-horse guide to Saturday's StanJames.com International Hurdle at Cheltenham.
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Regarded as a live player for the Champion Hurdle itself after an impressive victory in this contest 12 months ago but he missed that contest after picking up an infection in a joint. Reportedly back on track and pleasing connections but he'd be entitled to need this outing and has no easy task conceding weight to Zarkandar.
Rock On Ruby
Won the Champion Hurdle for Paul Nicholls although was based in the yard supervised and now run by Harry Fry. Has never finished worse than second in four runs at this track but this promises to be the most testing ground that he's encountered to date and he missed his intended reappearance due to the heavy underfoot conditions.
Nicely treated by the conditions of this race - receiving 4lbs from his two principal rivals - and has the advantage of a run under his belt having impressively outbattled a useful stablemate at Wincanton. Disappointing he could only finish fifth in the Champion Hurdle before falling at Aintree but every reason to think that he wasn't in his best at the spring having suffered from a cough and better expected this time around.
Course winner who has come out on top six times in 31 starts and, according to the official ratings, he has a fine chance of picking up a decent prize for finishing fourth.
The lowest rated of this septet makes a quick return to the track having pulled up in last weekend's Becher Chase. Has done nearly all of his racing over further and hasn't run over hurdles since 2009 - others look more likely.
One Cool Shabra
Fair sort at his best but is often highly tried as he is here. Often makes the running so could take this field along for a mile or so and enjoy his moment in the spotlight.
Ran a fine race to finish a seven length second to Hinterland in a Chepstow handicap on his penultimate start but made little impression in a Grade Two last time and this is tougher still.
Barring accidents this only concerns three runners but they are a high-class trio and a cracking race is in prospect.
Zarkandar is favoured by the weights and has racefitness on his side while Ruby Walsh is a more than able substitute for regular pilot Daryl Jacob.
Although heavy ground will be a new experience for him, there are reasons for believing that he may be able to cope with it better than his rivals and, with so much in his favour, Paul Nicholls' five year old is a confident selection to follow up his Elite Hurdle win.