The six top Champion Hurdle contenders in Faugheen’s absence

The revelation two-mile king Faugheen is injured and will miss next month’s Stan James Champion Hurdle has thrown the race wide open.
The six top Champion Hurdle contenders in Faugheen’s absence

It was almost a one-horse book for the Cheltenham showpiece, with Faugheen quoted generally at 1-3 to become the first horse to land back-to-back victories since Hardy Eustace on 2005.

However, his trainer Willie Mullins still has a vice-like grip on the first-day feature of the Cheltenham Festival.

Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon were second- and third-favourites behind their stablemate, while Mullins had also declared his intention to run Sempre Medici after his easy win in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran on Saturday. Others also come into the equation, and Keith Hamer assesses the prospects for a new champion:

NICHOLS CANYON

(Willie Mullins) (5-1)

Had the distinction of inflicting the only defeat to date on Faugheen when gaining a surprise half-length verdict over his illustrious stablemate in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November.

After getting the better of another Champion hopeful, Identity Thief in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas, Nichols Canyon was a distant third to Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month.

Nichols Canyon is undoubtedly talented, having six Grade One wins to his credit, but he did disappoint at Cheltenham last year when only third in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle when sent off favourite.

ARCTIC FIRE

(Willie Mullins) (7-2)

In contrast to Nichols Canyon at Cheltenham, he arguably put up his best performance in the Champion Hurdle last spring when staying on strongly to take second place, just a length and a half behind the winner and five lengths ahead of dual winner Hurricane Fly as Mullins saddled the first three home.

ANNIE POWER

(Willie Mullins) (9-4)

Another Mullins one-two-three could still be on the cards as the powerhouse trainer appears likely to supplement super mare Annie Power for the Champion. Like Faugheen, she is owned by Rich Ricci, and made a timely, and successful, return to action at Punchestown just minutes after the injury to her stable companion was revealed.

Annie Power had been expected to line up in either the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, in which she fell when well on top last season, or to try to go one better in the World Hurdle after finishing second in 2014.

IDENTITY THIEF

(Henry de Bromhead) (6-1)

Because of Mullins’ apparent stranglehold, Identity Thief had gone relatively unnoticed, but he must come into the reckoning now.

Winner of the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November, he gave Nichols Canyon a race at Leopardstown in late December and has obviously been laid out since then for the Champion.

THE NEW ONE

(Nigel Twiston-Davies) (10-1)

The pick of the home team has to be The New One, who has five course wins to his credit at Cheltenham, including the Neptune in 2013. He was an unlucky third in the Champion in 2014 after being badly hampered by the fatal fall of Our Conor.

Twiston-Davies feels his stable star has never had the credit he deserves but granted decent ground next month, he is confident The New One can run a big race.

MY TENT OR YOURS

(Nicky Henderson) (9-1)

Henderson still has five left in the race, the most interesting of which is My Tent Or Yours. Runner-up to Jezki in 2014, he has been absent since suffering a shock defeat at Ayr that April.

However, he could return in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday and the vibes from Seven Barrows suggest My Tent Or Yours could still gatecrash the party.

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