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Last Updated: 10/11/12 3:45pm
Zarkandar: Made a winning return to action for the third successive season
Zarkandar defied top-weight to make a successful return to action in the totepool.com Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.
The 2011 Triumph Hurdle hero was expected to need the run ahead of next month's International Hurdle at Cheltenham but successfully gave upwards of 12lbs to his rivals in the Grade Two contest.
The field crawled through the early stages with no one keen to go on but Ruby Walsh eventually injected a modicum of pace into the tempo as Prospect Wells and Zarkandar raced at the head of affairs.
As a result of the slow gallop, all bar Topolski were still in the mix with two hurdles still to jump although Paddy Brennan was beginning to send out distress signals aboard the disappointing Baby Mix.
The front two started to sprint for home and Balder Success was the only runner able to go with the two Paul Nicholls trained runners but Alan King's four year old had fought his jockey Robert Thornton for the first half mile and those exertions told late in the day.
Zarkandar outjumped Prospect Wells at the second last but the latter was in front approaching the last only to again lose out in the jumping stakes as his stablemate regained the upper hand.
There was little to choose between the pair on the run to the line but Daryl Jacob's mount prevailed by a neck.
Sky Bet cut the winner to 8-1 from 12s for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March in which he was fifth last season and Nicholls was delighted: "He's done well, real well, and I never had him looking as good as this for the whole of last season.
"For him he looks big and well, and in the last fortnight he's just suddenly picked up. Ruby thought the 17lb would swing it and I told the owners that win, lose or draw he would come on for the run.
"Zarkandar will now go for the Bula (International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December) and we're right back where we want to be with him. The Bula is the race we've been training him for.