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Last Updated: 16/02/12 4:34pm
Zarkandar: Reappears in Friday's Betfair Hurdle
Zarkandar finally gets his season underway in Friday's Betfair Hurdle at Newbury after negotiating another week of delays.
Paul Nicholls has maintained last year's Triumph winner is primarily being prepared for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, but a share of the £152,500 prize money on offer would not be turned away by connections.
Ante-post favourite Zarkandar (Ruby Walsh) spearheads a three-strong team from Nicholls as he is joined by Brampour (Harry Derham) and Empire Levant (Daryl Jacob) in Britain's richest handicap hurdle, which was quickly rescheduled when last Saturday's meeting was abandoned due to snow.
Twenty horses have been declared for the re-run.
Nicholls said of Zarkandar: "He was unbeaten last year winning the Adonis, the Triumph and then at Aintree, and he's on a handicap mark based on what he achieved last season.
"Whether he's well in or not, we'll know after this.
"He had a breathing operation in the summer, because he was always making a noise last year, but he had a little setback in October when he was cast in his box and missed two or three weeks work.
"I said to his owners that he wasn't going to be ready for Christmas, so we should give him one run and go for the Champion Hurdle, which has always been our target.
"He's done plenty of work and had a racecourse gallop but first and foremost I haven't trained him just for Newbury. That is his prep race for the Champion Hurdle and that is when I want him at his very best for obvious reasons.
"He could have a nice handicap mark but because they're well in, it doesn't always mean that they're certainties."
Of Brampour, Nicholls said: "He was beaten only four lengths by Grandouet (in the International Hurdle) and he could run a really nice race and pick up some crumbs in third or fourth.
"He's done nothing but improve this year, he's had a break since Christmas and after this he'll go to the Champion Hurdle with Harry keeping the ride.
"Later on I'd look at something like the Scottish Champion Hurdle. He'll hopefully keep improving and contest all the good hurdle races next year."
He added of Empire Levant, who is part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson: "He's a big, scopey, rangey horse and I'm looking forward to him jumping fences next year.
"He won first time at Newbury off a really nice handicap mark and we ran him again two days later and he was second to Rock On Ruby with Raya Star in third. Raya Star then won the Ladbroke Hurdle so that's good form.
"He had a couple of problems over Christmas, he had a cold, and we'll probably go on for the County Hurdle after this. He's definitely not without a chance - he'll run really well."