Zarkandar fuelled his claims for the Champion Hurdle and surprised trainer Paul Nicholls when outpointing stablemate Prospect Wells in the totepool.com Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.
Fifth in last season's Champion and subsequently a faller at Aintree, the diminutive five-year-old (100-30) showed with a determined display under Daryl Jacob that, in a tight situation, class will out.
It was a perfect start to the campaign for Jacob, who because Ruby Walsh is expected to ride Hurricane Fly throughout the season, is set to be aboard Zarkandar for all his races.
Despite giving his rival 17lb, Zarkandar cruised up to join Prospect Wells still on the bridle two flights from home, and buckled down on the run-in to resist the latter's final thrust under Walsh by a neck. It was seven lengths back to Balder Succes.
Nicholls was all praise for the winner, whom William Hill cut to 10-1 from 12s for the Champion Hurdle.
He said: "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. Then we'll look to bring him back here for the Kingwell in the new year.
"Prospect Wells is a rattling good handicapper and will win a nice race. Today there hardly deserved to be a loser. Prospect Wells lost nothing in defeat. I always hate beating a stablemate, but he will win a nice race. Both have run well and I am chuffed for both of them."
Nicholls completed a double when the Walsh-ridden Foggy's Wall (9-2) grittily held God's Own in the bumper. The trainer said: "He won't run for six weeks, then he'll go hurdling. I'm in no rush with him at all."
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