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Classy Zarkandar can put Annie Power to the test in Coral Hurdle

Zarkandar may be bred for the flat but he has developed into one of the toughest hurdlers in training. He is a half-brother to Arc heroine Zarkova but did not reveal his true talent until put over hurdles in 2011.

He won all three starts in his juvenile season including the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham and was prepared for the Champion Hurdle in 2012. The Nicholls stable struggled with a virus that season and he finished fifth after a rushed preparation that saw him battle to victory in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

Last season he suffered his only defeat when fourth in the Champion, apparently finding the two-mile trip a bit on the short side in the highest class. He was stepped up to two and a half miles in the Aintree Hurdle and fought off the highly-regarded The New One to win by half a length.

Stable jockey Daryl Jacob rides here rather than partner Gold Cup hope Silviniaco Conti at Haydock and he is surely going to be difficult to beat. He is officially 12lbs superior to market leader Annie Power but those figures are almost certainly going to be reassessed after Saturday’s race.

Annie Power is unbeaten after seven races and is a rare early season raider from the powerful Willie Mullins stable. The chestnut mare easily accounted for a modest field to win a Grade 1 hurdle at Fairyhouse in March but she is yet to meet anything of Zarkandar’s class.

Her presence in the field has led to the withdrawal of Melodic Rendezvous, virtually setting this up as a match. Stable companion Zaidpour is well exposed at this level but Rolling Star could be the one to show improvement.

Nicky Henderson’s French import was sent off favourite at both Cheltenham and Liverpool last season but failed to trouble the judge. The stable have always held him in high regard and he could be a threat if he settles in the early stages.