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Hurricane 'the one to beat'

Paul Nicholls is under no illusions about the prospect of his big guns taking on Hurricane Fly in the Stan James Champion Hurdle after the superstar's brilliant performance on Sunday.

The Ditcheat trainer has several entries in the Cheltenham showpiece on March 13, including Zarkandar and Rock On Ruby, but he knows they will be up against it against Willie Mullins' charge after his scintillating win in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

He told At The Races: "He was impressive. You can't not be impressed. He's done everything asked of him. I know Ruby (Walsh) was pleased with him. He's the reigning champion and he's the one to beat."

Last season's Triumph Hurdle victor Zarkandar has not raced since following up his Cheltenham success at Aintree in April. However, he warmed up for a probable return to action in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on Saturday week with a pleasing workout on Tuesday.

"He had a little school and I'm very happy with him," Nicholls added.

The trainer is excited about Pearl Swan's chances in the JCB Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham despite the horse's controversial demotion at the weekend, when he was put back to second after beating Grumeti by a short head.

He said: "I've always liked him and he ran very well, but was a bit unlucky. It was a borderline decision, but there is no point arguing about it. We are taking it on the chin that we got demoted.

"I think it was very harsh on Ruby to be given three days for careless riding. There is one thing Ruby isn't and that's careless. He's awesome in a finish. I thought he might get one day in that situation, but three days is harsh. That's my view.

"Pearl Swan is probably the top-rated juvenile now and we're looking forward to running him in the Festival."

Nicholls is leaning towards running Hinterland in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle rather than the Triumph after the French import was beaten into third by Module in a handicap last weekend.

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