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Leopardstown preview: Nichols Canyon can capture Irish Champion Hurdle

David Metcalf | January 23, 2016

The Irish Champion Hurdle takes centre stage at Leopardstown (15.05) on Sunday, and Nichols Canyon looks value to thwart stable companion Faugheen again and land a seventh Grade 1 success.

Nichols Canyon, who is one of three auspicious runners in the race for trainer Willie Mullins, has won seven of his nine starts over hurdles.

The gelding thrashed Parlour Games in a Grade 1 at Aintree last season, and went off to round the campaign with an ultra-impressive seven length success over Alpha Des Obeaux at the Punchestown Festival.

Judged on the manner of those victories, Nichols Canyon looked one to keep onside, and that view was confirmed when he made a winning return to action in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

Nichols Canyon made all, and despite making a mistake at the last stayed on strongly to assert on the run-in and beat Faugheen by 1/2 a length.

No fluke about success

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It was the first time that Faugheen, last year’s English Champion Hurdle winner at the Cheltenham Festival, had tasted defeat.

Connections claimed they were baffled by the performance, as he had worked all over Nichols Canyon at home in their final gallop before the race. However, to my eyes here was no fluke about Nichols Canyon’s victory.

Faugheen had every chance to go past under a very animated Ruby walsh, but was unable to do so and the winner found plenty to score in relative comfort.

Nichols Canyon has since gone on to beat the upwardly mobile Identity Thief in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle over course and distance, looking beat approaching the final flight before rallying strongly to win going away by two lengths.

There is simply nothing not to like about Nichols Canyon, and he is blessed a rare combination of having a high cruising speed and guts.

He is currently 6/1 second-favourite with Coral for the English equivalent of this race around Presbury Park in March, and I think Nichols Canyon is capable of confirming the form with Faugheen to further enhance his credentials for that contest.

Faugheen is top class but no machine

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Faugheen has won of 11 of his 12 starts and, since defeat in the Morgiana, has gone on to land the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton for a second year running.

The eight-year-old made all to win impressively by seven lengths from The New One, but in truth won as he should have given that the opposition was not up to much.

There is no doubt that Faugheen is a very good horse, but I don’t think that he is the “machine” as dubbed by his legion of fans.

He does look very good when allowed an uncontested lead, but Nichols Canyon’s victory over him showed that he can be vulnerable when something takes him on.

It will be interesting to see if Nichols Canyon is allowed to take him on again for the lead, and disappointing from a neutral’s perspective if he isn’t.

Should Nichols Canyon can take control early doors I think he will prove very hard to pass and is capable of giving Faugheen, currently the odds-on 4/7 favourite with Coral for the English Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, another beating.

Douvan scares off opposition in Irish Arkle

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The other big race on the card is the Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase (13.55), which has proved to be a key trial over the years for the Cheltenham Festival.

However, the presence of Douvan has scared off the opposition and the Willie Mullins trained gelding now faces just two opponents both rated vastly inferior.

Douvan’s rating of 160 puts him 17lb clear of Velvet Maker and 22lb ahead of Domesday Book, and explains why he is an overwhelming odds-on favourite to take the Irish Arkle.

The six-year-old is simply in a different league to his rivals and, granted a clear round, should win with his head in his chest.

Schooling session for Supreme winner

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It should be nothing more than a schooling session for last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner, who is unbeaten in six starts and has been so impressive in landing novices chases at Navan and this venue.

Douvan is currently the red-hot 4/6 favourite with Coral for the Arkle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham on Tuesday, March 15th, and this is unlikely to tell us anything more than we already know other than prove the horse’s well-being ahead of his ultimate target.

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Coral’s top tip

Nichols Canyon looks worth a wager in the Irish Champion Hurdle to confirm his recent victory over Faugheen was no fluke.

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