Willie Mullins’ decision to run Arctic Fire in Leopardstown’s Christmas Hurdle means stablemate Nichols Canyon is now 1/2 favourite to land the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle.
Yet, despite the son of 2007 Derby winner Authorised’s odds-on status, he is far from a certainty thanks to the threat of Henry de Bromhead’s highly progressive Grade 1 winner Identity Thief (9/4).
Rated just 2lbs below Nichols Canyon’s mark of 160 after his victory in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle, the handicapper’s opinion alone suggests the pair should be more closely matched in the betting.
Further consideration of the respective races in which they earned their current assessments supports such a contention further.
Nichols Canyon was put up 5lbs for beating the then 174-rated Faugheen by half a length at Punchestown in November.
It was a shock defeat for the Champion Hurdle winner, who went on to make a mockery of that form when destroying his rivals in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day.
The theory that something was awry with Faugheen that day and thus that Nichols Canyon’s achievements in besting him should be taken with a hefty pinch of salt, come in the shape of the third, Wicklow Brave, who finished only a length-and-a-quarter further back.
A day less than a fortnight later, the same Wicklow Brave was back in action at Newcastle, where he was sent off 7/4 favourite, but could only finish 10-and-a-half lengths behind Identity Thief.
In winning on Tyneside, the five-year-old landed an (admittedly weak) all-ages Grade 1 in just his sixth spin over hurdles.
It was the second run of a campaign he begun rated 137 and confirmation as to De Bromhead’s post-race assertion he had come back twice the horse after the summer.
He fought to beat the 158-rated Top Notch by a neck, but it is highly likely that he will improve again for the run, after getting involved in a running battle with that rival from the far side and seemingly giving the game away when clobbering the last.
Having raced fully 11 time less than former flat horse Nichols Canyon under rules, there is little doubt he could progress past the favourite at Leopardstown.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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