Zarkandar gallop to test Cheltenham credentials
PAUL NICHOLLS is planning to give Zarkandar a racecourse gallop in the next 10 days in preparation for a likely run in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on February 11.
Last season's Triumph Hurdle winner has not been seen since completing a spring double at Aintree last April, but a return to the track is imminent.
The champion trainer remains hopeful the stoutly bred five-year-old can develop into a serious contender for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
Nicholls said: "I was obviously very pleased to hear that Zarkandar will be left on a mark of 151 for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury next month. And I am clearly very keen to run the horse in what is now Europe's richest handicap hurdle since Betfair backed the race.
"Zarkandar is only workmanlike at home - Brampour used to murder him over five furlongs last season - so, while he is pleasing me, he is never going to tell you that much from his work. He does it on the track.
"So while it could be argued that he is theoretically well-handicapped, with the Triumph Hurdle form working out so well and should take his chance come what may, I have decided to give him a racecourse gallop in the next 10 days to see whether he will be ready in time to do himself justice at Newbury.
"That gallop will decide where we go next with the horse. The Champion Hurdle is the only race that matters for him though. He is in good order and, touch wood, the summer breathing operation seems to have helped."
The Nicholls-trained Prospect Wells has been found to be suffering from a breathing problem following his disappointing performance in the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown earlier this month.
The seven-year-old trailed home a well-beaten fourth when strongly fancied for the Grade One contest, leaving connections to initially believe they had turned the gelding out too quickly after his fine fourth in The Ladbroke three weeks earlier.
But the champion trainer decided to have his charge thoroughly checked by the vet and the problem was found.
Nicholls said: "Prospect Wells really had me scratching my head after his lifeless performance in the Tolworth at Sandown. I was at a total loss.
"Ruby (Walsh) said to me that the horse sounded thicker in his wind than he normally does. So we got Geoff Lane in to take a look at him, and scope him, and he discovered that the horse had an entrapped epiglottis - and that explains the Sandown run.
"Prospect Wells has options in both the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and County Hurdle, and we have won the County with novices in the past."