Nicholls in Zarkandar warning
Trainer in warning to ante-post punters
Last Updated: 14/01/12 9:17am
Paul Nicholls has warned that he has not yet finalised his running plans for next month's Betfair Hurdle - in which he has entered Zarkandar - at Newbury.
The five-year-old won the Triumph Hurdle last term before going on to further Grade One victory at Aintree but he has yet to reappear this season.
Nicholls' unbeaten charge is as low as 5-1 favourite with some bookmakers for the Grade Three event on February 11, but he is not certain to be in the line up with the Ditcheat handler preferring a couple of others at present.
"I have five entries in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury next month, and Zarkandar heads the market at around the 7.0 mark (on Betfair), I see," Nicholls told his Betfair column.
"But a word of warning for punters: I have made no firm plans for the race at this stage for any of my entries.
"As it stands, I would say that Celestial Halo and Empire Levant would be likely runners.
"Celestial Halo was awesome in winning at the course on New Year's Eve, and that brought his record in handicap hurdles to three from three. And when you consider that win came off a mark of 160, you realise what a high-class performance that was.
"It is further proof that, while he can struggle off level weights against the top guns over two miles, then he has the necessary class to give weight away to lesser horses.
"So, on a track he loves, he looks set to take his chance, even though he has been raised to 165. Not many horses win handicaps off those kind of marks but I do have the option of taking 7lb off with Harry Derham.
"Empire Levant is a horse I like but was held up after being cast in his box over Christmas. If he isn't ready in time, he will go straight to the County Hurdle at Cheltenham. If Celestial Halo runs, he would have a nice racing weight.
"It was nice of one reporter this week to point out to the handicapper how well the 2011 Triumph Hurdle form is working out, and I have been very happy with Zarkandar since his setback (like Empire Levant, he too was cast in his box).
"But if you fancy him, then I would hold fire for the time being. He has alternative engagements at Wincanton, Haydock and Sandown, and conditions and his well-being nearer the time will dictate where he goes.
"But he is shaping very well at home and the only race that matters for him is the Champion Hurdle."
Nicholls also confirmed the Cheltenham feature on March 13 to be the target for Christmas Hurdle runner-up Rock On Ruby while urging punters not to forget Ladbroke Hurdle disappointment Brampour.
He added: "I see Brampour is available at well over 100.0 on Betfair for the Champion Hurdle, and he would have been a fraction of that price had we not run him last time. He is 100% at home.
"As for Rock On Ruby, he probably goes straight to the Champion."