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BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)
With the sad news this week that Annie Power is out for the season and the shock news on Saturday that Faugheen will miss the race due to injury, Sunday’s Irish Champion Hurdle will now see only four rivals go to post in what looks an intriguing affair
Nichols Canyon was soundly beaten in last year’s renewal of this race, left trailing in Faugheen’s wake, 28 lengths behind. Nevertheless his seasonal reappearance this year gave hope that he was starting to progress again when easily winning the Morgiana Hurdle in convincing fashion, but then went to the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown in December to be soundly beaten by Petit Mouchoir. His rider Ruby Walsh cited his disappointment at his mounts tame effort, suggesting it wasn’t his true running: “I don’t want to take anything away from Petit Mouchoir, who was a very good winner on the day, but Nichols Canyon barely managed to beat Ivanovich Gorbatov and Jer’s Girl and they were a long way behind him at Punchestown“. It is still hard to get away from how disappointing that performance was and he looking very one paced up the home straight, with a repeat of that performance leaving him vulnerable again. On past performances, he seems unlikely to reverse form with Petit Mouchoir and he would really need heavier ground if he has any chance of upsetting them both. With heavy ground, it would bring his stamina into play and although he doesn’t have the turn of foot of some of the other horses in the race, he is a strong galloper and would most likely stay on the best if conditions get tricky. With just the four runners now, he is certainly vulnerable for win purposes.
Speaking of the Ryanair Hurdle winner, Petit Mouchoir was most impressive that day, making all and quickening off the home bend in the style of a very progressive and smart horse. Henry De Bromhead’s six-year old has finally shown us what he is really capable of and its hard to say where the limit of his ability is, as he should be capable of even better yet. Probably preferring ground that is closer to good than heavy, he is comfortable with this course and distance as evidenced by his win in the Ryanair Hurdle and he’d be very dangerous to give a lead to. De Bromhead was pleasantly surprised by his Ryanair Hurdle performance, citing ambitions for the Champion Hurdle later in the season: “I think we’d have every right to consider the Champion Hurdle on that performance. He was a good horse last year with some great runs at the back-end, and bar Newcastle with the fall, he’s done nothing wrong with us. He’s a lovely horse to do anything with, I’m just blown away“. Looking set to go off as favourite for the race, Petit Mouchoir has an ideal opportunity to follow up his Ryanair Hurdle victory. The Henry De Bromhead horses are in excellent order at present, with a 24% strike rate from 41 runners when writing this piece and Petit Mouchoir can add to that tally on Sunday.
Like many previous Triumph Hurdle winners, Ivanovich Gorbatov has struggled this season against older competitors. Now without a win in six races since winning at the Cheltenham Festival last year, the JP McManus owned five-year old was last seen when chasing home Nichols Canyon and Petit Mouchoir in the Ryanair Hurdle over course and distance at the end of December. Barring any incident, it’s hard to make any case for him to reverse that form on Sunday.
Footpad also ran in the Ryanair Hurdle in December, eventually running fourth. On his day a very smart hurdler, like Ivanovich Gorbatov, he has however struggled with the step up to competing with older horses this season and he very much looks like the outsider of the two Willie Mullins runners. Similar to Ivanovich Gorbatov, it is hard to make a case for Footpad reversing the Ryanair Hurdle form with either Nichols Canyon or Petit Mouchoir on Sunday.