Punchestown: Nichols Canyon retains Morgiana Hurdle crown
Nichols Canyon leads Jer's Girl at Punchestown
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos) Nichols Canyon retains
Morgiana Hurdle crown By Peter Scargill 2:26PM 20 NOV 2016
Report: Punchestown, Sunday
Stanjames.com Morgiana Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m, 4yo+
NICHOLS CANYON recorded back-to-back wins in the Morgiana Hurdle and provided his trainer Willie Mullins with a sixth successive victory in what turned out to be a surprisingly easy triumph.
Jer's Girl pressed Nichols Canyon the whole way and approaching the penultimate hurdle the pair were locked together. However, when they emerged from the fog it was Ruby Walsh and Nichols Canyon who were comfortably clear.
Nichols Canyon had been a late super-sub for the Mullins team after Faugheen and Annie Power, the last two winners of the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, were forced to miss the race.
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Mullins, who had taken the previous five editions of the race with Thousand Stars, Hurricane Fly and Nichols Canyon, said: "It wasn't the plan to run but when the others had to be ruled out we decided to go ahead and declare him. They went a good gallop and his good jumping and stamina came into play.
"He's very effective over that trip on soft ground but I'd imagine we'll be going back up in trip with him."
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The thick fog at Punchestown had lifted a little by the time of the feature race allowing viewers to see Nichols Canyon and Jer's Girl duel through much of the contest – the duo jumping sharply and pushing each other to race at an unrelenting pace.
Simenon, Sempre Medici and Ivanovich Gorbatov were quickly made to look like selling horses as they trailed behind the leading pair, who appeared set for a tussle up the home straight.
Nichols Canyon made his class count in the end and between the final two hurdles he shook off Jer's Girl and cantered to a smooth success.
Walsh came off second best aboard Faugheen when taking on Nichols Canyon in the Morgiana Hurdle last year, but he was pleased to have selected the winning Mullins horse this time around.
"I managed to ride the right one this year!," he said. "We went a good gallop every step of the way and they both jumped well [at the front]. It was run at Grade 1 pace and we just seemed to get the better jump at the second last and it was all over then."
With the likes of Annie Power and Faugheen in the same stable, bookmakers were keener to cut Nichols Canyon for the World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival instead of the Stan James Champion Hurdle.
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