Punters who took advantage of the free entry offered by the Newbury executive for their rescheduled ‘Super Saturday’ fixture enjoyed a sensational day’s racing in which the last gasp success of Champion Hurdle hope Zarkandar in the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle had to be seen to be believed, writes Elliot Slater.
Racing for the first time since April last year when he won the Grade 1 juvenile hurdle at the Aintree Festival only three weeks after landing the JCB Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, the Paul Nicholls-trained five-year-old looked in all sorts of trouble when outpaced on the home turn in the 20-runner field. Ruby Walsh refused to give up on the unbeaten hurdler though and his mount eventually responded, cutting through the field between the final two flights before being produced to lead in the final 100 yards to score from previous winner Get me Out Of Here and Raya Star in stunning fashion. People following the 2012 Cheltenham Festival betting will have been impressed.
Both Walsh and Nicholls were ecstatic at the way the son of Azamour turned almost certain defeat into victory, and bookmakers were also impressed, cutting the odds of a Zarkandar Stan James Champion Hurdle victory to 6/1 (from 7s),whilst leaving reigning champion Hurricane Fly unchanged at a general offer of 4/5. Nicholls reported that his charge is certain to come on for the outing and was quick to underline the fact that no horse before in the 40 year history of the Betfair Hurdle, (the race formerly known s the Totesport trophy), had won this ultra-competitive handicap event on its first outing of the season.
Nicholls went on to suggest that if, as expected, Ruby Walsh maintains his association with Willie Mullins’ Hurricane Fly, Daryl Jacob will be called up to partner Zarkandar on whom he won both the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton and the Triumph Hurdle last term.