Zarkandar fuelled his claims for the Champion Hurdle and surprised trainer Paul Nicholls when outpointing stablemate Prospect Wells in the totepool.com Elite Hurdle.
Fifth in last season's Champion and a faller when previously seen in action at Aintree, the diminutive Zarkandar showed with a determined display under Daryl Jacob that, in a tight situation, class will out.
It was a perfect start to the campaign for Jacob, who because Ruby Walsh is expected to ride Hurricane Fly throughout the season is set to be aboard Zarkandar for all his races.
Despite giving his rival 17lb, Zarkandar cruised up to join Prospect Wells still on the bridle two flights from home, and buckled down on the run-in to resist the latter's final thrust under Walsh by a neck. It was seven lengths back to Balder Succes.
Nicholls was all praise for the winner, who William Hill cut to 10-1 from 12s for the Champion.
He said: "He's done well, real well, and I never had him looking as good as this for the whole of last season.
"For him he looks big and well, and in the last fortnight he's just suddenly picked up. Ruby thought the 17lb would swing it and I told the owners that win, lose or draw he would come on for the run."
"Zarkandar will now go for the Bula (International Hurdle at Cheltenham in December) )and we're right back where we want to be with him. The Bula is the race we've been training him for.
"Then we'll look to bring him back here for the Kingwell in the new year. Prospect Wells is a rattling good handicapper and will win a nice race. Today there hardly deserved to be a loser.
"Prospect Wells lost nothing in defeat, I always hate beating a stablemate but he will win a nice race. Both have run well and I am chuffed for both of them."
Later on the same card The Package staked an early claim for the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup as he fought off Michel Le Bon to land the Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase for David Pipe and Timmy Murphy.
The nine-year-old cruised to the front approaching the cross-fence five out, and from then was always in charge, even though Walsh and Michel Le Bon never gave up the chase.
Pipe sees The Package as the yard's main John Smith's Grand National hope and said of the David Johnson-owned winner: "He's really a National horse, but he's in the Hennessy and we'll have to look at that. He's always been a very good horse, and Timmy has ridden a perfect race although the ground was probably softer than ideal."
Murphy played his part in the triumph as he pre-trained The Package in the summer. The jockey said of the 5-1 winner: "He came to me after Cheltenham and I got the pre-training into him.
"As a young horse he would be too keen and do too much, but at the moment he's beautifully settled."