Willie Mullins admits Nichols Canyon puts him in mind of stable star Hurricane Fly as he bids to give the trainer a fourth Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle win in the last 10 years at Cheltenham today.
Fiveforthree, Mikael D’Haguenet and Faugheen have all struck gold in the two-mile-five-furlong heat for the Closutton handler and he highly rates the attributes of this year’s challenger, who runs in the colours of Andrea and Graham Wylie.
A Listed winner and Group Three placed on the Flat for John Gosden, Nichols Canyon has won three of his four starts over obstacles this term with his only blot coming when unseating Ruby Walsh in a Leopardstown Grade One at Christmas.
He was a Grade One winner at Leopardstown last time out and his trainer can sees shades of stable star Hurricane Fly, who has a raft of top-level successes to his credit, about Nichols Canyon.
“Nichols Canyon has got lots of stamina. Mr Wylie had a very good stayer in the World Hurdle in Inglis Drever.
"I’m going to do what’s right for the horse this year and maybe look at that (World Hurdle) in the long run, but I think he could be good enough to come back as a Champion Hurdler as well,” he told Racing UK.
“To put in a performance like that, against all those good horses in Leopardstown, that could be a Champion Hurdle performance.
“To me, did he look a little bit like Hurricane Fly? He’s the same type as a build of horse and has the same aggressiveness as him. He could be that horse.
“The good horses have that sort of stamina, as well as speed.”
Walsh will be in the saddle once again at Cheltenham and is hoping someone will be keen to make the pace as he would not want to repeat the front-running tactics he employed in the Deloitte Hurdle.
“He was good the last day at Leopardstown when I thought Alvisio Ville might beat him. He’s not an impressive work horse and is a hard one to gauge but keeps it producing on the track.
"I wouldn’t want to make the running on him in the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle though” Walsh told his Paddy Power blog.
Mullins also has a second string to his bow in the Gigginstown House Stud-owned Outlander, who was a multiple bumper winner and has triumphed twice over obstacles this term.
The trainer told www.wpmullins.com : “He promised a lot as a bumper horse and has progressed well now he is hurdling. He won two of his three races this term, including his last run in the Grade Two at Leopardstown in January, when he beat the useful Martello Tower. I was impressed with that.”
Windsor Park, who chased home Nichols Canyon in the Deloitte, runs for Dermot Weld, while Noel Meade’s Snow Falcon is the other Irish-trained challenger.
Parlour Games has obvious claims for John Ferguson, having bagged the Grade One Challow Hurdle at Newbury on his most recent outing in December.
He had previously won over the course and distance in a Neptune trial back in November and Ferguson has freshened him up for this Festival assignment.
He said: “We’ve kept him fresh as he was on the go through the summer.
“He’s won over the course and distance of the Neptune, proved that was no fluke by winning the Challow so he’s proved he’s best of the English but it’s a question of how that form fits against the Irish.
“He’s fresh and well and ready for action, hopefully he’ll give a good account.
“He’s the best we’ve had as he’s won a Grade One, he’s still at the top of the pecking order.”
Ordo Ab Chao won a Grade Two on Cheltenham Trials Day in January to book his place in the field for trainer Alan King.
The six-year-old placed in a Grade Two bumper last term and has won three of his four starts over hurdles, with his only disappointing effort coming well when behind the reopposing Vyta Du Roc at Sandown back in December.
King said: “He has only had one bad run this season and that was at Sandown before Christmas. We don’t know what went wrong that day.
“He came back here and won very well in a trial race and I think that form is quite strong. We have always liked him.”
Vyta Du Roc is Nicky Henderson’s sole representative in the race. Beast Of Burden, Warrantor and Anteros from Sophie Leech’s yard completing the 10-strong line-up.
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