Nichols Canyon Flying First Class In Ryanair

Trainer, Willie Mullins, has already enjoyed a fantastic festive period thanks to Faugheen and Douvan landing Grade 1 honours, and punters looking to play up their winnings look to another of his stars in Nichols Canyon, who goes for the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown (2.30pm) on Tuesday.

Canyon To Provide More Gold For Mullins?
Having already won six of his eight races over hurdles, this improving 5yo is certainly a hurdler going places, and has progressed ever since finishing third in the Neptune at Cheltenham in March (2m5f, good).

Subsequent Grade 1 wins followed in the spring when triumphant at Aintree (2m4f) and Punchestown (2m4f, yielding), prior to an even better display on his seasonal reappearance in November. Switched back to 2m at Punchestown that day, Nichols Canyon upset the odds in beating the aforementioned, Faugheen, who boosted the form in landing the big Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.

The switch back to 2m has not proven sharp for Nichols Canyon, and the fact he recorded a career best in beating Faugheen suggests there is more to come.

Nichols Canyon also holds a number of credentials shown by past winners of this race…

Ryanair Hurdle Trends
Of the last 10 winners…

10 returned 6/1 or shorter
10 made the top three last time
9 were officially rated 159 or higher
9 had three or more hurdle runs
9 had already raced at Leopardstown
9 ran in a Grade 1 last time
8 were Irish-bred
W Mullins won it four times, C Murphy twice

Theft To Steal Prize?
A top three slot is important coming into this event, and Identity Theft (5/2) did just that when landing his second hurdle of the season at Newcastle (2m, soft). That wasn’t just any hurdle race he won that day, though, as it was a Grade 1 in which he defeated the Mullins-trained, Wicklow Brave.

That victory came following a Grade 2 at Down Royal in October (2m, soft), and he too is improving with every race. The key on Tuesday will be who handles the forecast heavy ground best? Nichols Canyon has won on the Flat when faced with heavy, though the worse Identity Theft faced was soft at Newcastle last time.

Windsor Value To Overcome Absence?
One who does handle heavy ground is Dermot Weld’s, Windsor Park (8/1), a winner on it back in 2014. Beaten just over 3l by Nichols Canyon in a Grade 1 over 2m2f here 10 months ago (2m2f, yielding), prior to reversing the form when landing the Neptune at Cheltenham in March, there may not be much between the pair once more.

The concern is a possible lack of race fitness, as Windsor Park was last seen on the Flat in September, and it will be interesting to see what the market says ahead of race time.

Making up the numbers is 100/1 shot, Plinth, a Grade 2 winner for Aidan O’Brien, who has disappointed the last twice, including when beten 40l by Nichols Canyon last time.

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The ability to handle the testing conditions will be key, which just gives the nod to Nichols Canyon, whose form when beating Faugheen was given a timely boost on Boxing Day.

*Prices correct at time of publication.