Stanjames.com International Hurdle
(Zarkandar & connections could be celebrating another win on Saturday)
This race looks like being the best it's been in many a year with three strong contenders for Champion Hurdle glory at the Cheltenham festival in March facing off against each other. We've a real belief in Paul Nicholls' classily bred Zarkandar, the half brother to Arc heroine Zarkava & think that he can win this before going on to win the big one at the festival.
Zarkandar could only manage 5th in the championship race last season whilst Rock On Ruby won the big one - there had however been health problems with various horses at Nicholls' Ditcheat yard in the buildup to Cheltenham & although Rock On Ruby was nominally his horse it was actually trained many miles away by Harry Fry who now holds his own licence & trains the horse in his own right. Zarkandar holds an advantage over Rock On Ruby anyway this time after winning on seasonal debut at Wincanton giving weight away all round & always holding the runner up, stablemate Prospect Wells. Rock On Ruby hasn't raced yet this season & it's a tough ask to win first time out in this company. The chief threat may instead come from last year's winner Grandouet who's already lost twice when taking on Zarkandar, coming 3rd in the Triumph in 2011 & then when getting brought down 2 fences out at Aintree when looking to be going just as well as the selection - we however weren't convinced Grandouet would necessarily have found enough to get past the battling favourite. Nicky Henderson's gelding hasn't however raced since last year's renewal & we think Zarkandar is the best of these anyway even without the fitness advantage so back him at odds of 5/4 for a nice win on the horses.
Leyton Orient vs Scunthorpe United
Down in League One, Leyton Orient entertain Scunthorpe United at the Matchroom Stadium. Leyton Orient are on 31 points & in 11th place whilst Scunthorpe are struggling in a lowly 23rd.
|(Star Man Kevin Lisbie scored both goals in the 2-0 away victory at Bury)|
Opposition Scunthorpe have suffered 12 defeats in their 21 league games & have only recorded four victories against sides in positions of 15th & lower. They have lost their last three league games against Bury, Doncaster Rovers & AFC Bournemouth with a disappointing 8 goals conceded. They have conceded 39 goals at & average of 1.86 per game & they won't be looking forward to the prospect of facing Kevin Lisbie & co. We expect Leyton Orient to be too strong for a poor Scunthorpe outfit at the best price of 23/20 at BetVictor.
Gillingham vs Fleetwood Town
This game in League Two sees the two teams that have conceded the least & 2nd least goals in the division as leaders Gillingham host Fleetwood Town who are sitting high in the table in 8th place but have only won one of their last 7 league games.
(Gillingham need to get skipper Danny Kedwell scoring again)
Gillingham have basically been the classiest operators in the league this season & they've lost only 3 times so far, being absolutely formidable on the road & not at all bad at home either although they're looking to bounce back after a shock reverse to Exeter last time they were at the Priestfield Stadium. The Gills started the season absolutely flying with 7 wins & a draw in their first 8 games & it was always going to be unlikely they could keep that pace going but they've still done well although they could do with captain Danny Kedwell getting back on the goal trail again although veteran striker Deon Burton has got 3 in the last 4.
The fast start subsequent slowdown is a similar story for Fleetwood but their pace has really dropped off in recent games where they haven't been scoring enough to turn draws into wins (they've had 8 ties in 21 games, 2nd most in League Two). The fact that their left back Junior Brown is their top scorer shows where Fleetwood's troubles lie as they are pretty good at defending their own goal, you need a high powered attack to breakdown Gillingham usually & it looks a very difficult assignment. Back Gillingham at odds of 10/11 to beat Fleetwood & show why they are 5 points clear at the top of the table.
Zarkandar to win the International Hurdle at Cheltenham 3.05 - odds of 5/4 currently
Leyton Orient to beat Scunthorpe United at 23/20 (BetVictor)
Gillingham to beat Fleetwood Town at 10/11 (Boylesports & Coral)