Paul Nicholls spoke exclusively to betting.betfair about his ante-post plans for the Betfair Handicap Hurdle, a race in which he won last season with Zarkandar...
We were fortunate enough to win Britain's richest handicap hurdle, the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, with Zarkandar last year. And we have seven entries this time around. All are possibles for the race at this stage, but some likelier than others. I will update on their progress in the coming weeks.
But, for now, I will take you through each one, in alphabetical order.
Caid Du Berlais: I was happy enough with his second at Chepstow last week, especially as he ran a bit green on his first start over English-style hurdles. We will see how he comes out of that race and make a plan.
Celestial Halo: Was last seen out in the Champion Hurdle in March, and has been out since with a minor leg injury. We would like to run him here, possibly en route to a crack at the World Hurdle, so we are stepping on the gas with him at the moment. Will probably need further than 2m these days but is two from two over hurdles at Newbury, including when winning a handicap hurdle off a mark of 160 in December 2011.
Dark Lover: Has been put up a ludicrous 17lb for his wide-margin win at Cheltenham last time, but what can you do? We will have a look at this race for him but he may go to Taunton on January 19th for a valuable open handicap that Betfair are sponsoring, and go from there.
Dildar: Pleased me when a running a nice race on his comeback at Kempton, but he has been put up 6lb for finishing second there. He could go to Cheltenham at the end of the month, after which we will know more.
Edgardo Sol: We have been mixing and matching over hurdles and fences with him this season, and he certainly wasn't disgraced when third to Sizing Europe and Rubi Light in a Grade 1 in Ireland last time. Currently rated 148 over hurdles and is a possible.
Pearl Swan: Showed a lot of promise over hurdles last season and has been out with a small injury this season. But, like Celestial Halo, we are stepping on the gas with him now, as I would love to run him here. My only concern is that the race may just come a week or two too soon. But he is fairly handicapped on 146, and will be getting a Champion Hurdle entry too. The next couple of weeks will tell us where we stand with him.
Ranjaan: Disappointing on his reappearance but Ascot showed us that he wants better ground and I think he could be a horse for something like the County Hurdle. I'd like to think he has races in him off his current mark, given suitable conditions.