What a shot - Identity Thief leads winner Nichols Canyon over the last
©Healy Racing Photos
There was a tremendous and protracted conclusion to the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle with 2/5 shot Nichols Canyon coming out on top from Identity Chief at Leopardstown.
In the aftermath Nichols Canyon remains a 5/1 shot with Paddy Power for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. His stable companion Faugheen is 8/11 from 4/5 whilst Identity Chief has shortened up to 12/1 from 20s.
Both Identity Chief and Nichols Canyon had spells on the speed but the former looked good from two out when the 'jolly' got that flight wrong.
Crucially the Ruby Walsh-ridden Nichols Canyon remained in there pitching well enough to retain his inside berth into the straight.
They both may be five-year-olds but Nichols Canyon has the more experience and that was undoubtedly a help as he found the most in the closing stages for a two length victory.
Sixteen lengths was the margin back to Plinth in third with four lengths to Windsor Park last of the four.
"He's so tough and his battling qualities and jumping remind of Hurricane Fly. To look at him would remind me of him too," said winning trainer Willie Mullins.
"He wouldn't have the speed of Hurricane Fly but he has the stamina and aggression and he's certainly getting into that realm of ability.
"For him to have won six Grade 1s at his age is a fair effort. He impressed me there.
"He had a tough race there and it's going to take him a long time to get over it. It would be a worry if we were looking at the Irish Champion Hurdle. He'll get and entry and we'll see how he comes out of this.
"I thought he was finished after the mistake two out but Ruby maintained his position on the inside and a got little breather on the last bend. Obviously he got a good enough jump at the last.
"A lot of horses would have backed off but he put his head down. It probably helps that he ran in handicaps on the Flat and that experience is a huge help in those situations.
"At the fifth last Ruby pulled him back but he stood back off it and still got there. That must have taken an awful lot out of him.
"Ruby then made a positive move on him and I was wondering if he would empty. He decided to make the move but that might have used up a lot of petrol.
"From Ruby's perspective he felt Bryan was slacking off the pace and he didn't want that to happen. It's easy to ride them from where I'm standing. Ruby told me the reason he did it after."
Meanwhile Henry de Bromhead commented on his charge, Identity Chief: "I'm delighted. He's improving so much with every run. He's a very good horse and I'm very lucky to have him.
"His last run was very good and coming here we were hopeful. I was surprised the way the prices were.
"I felt the ground was playing into his favour more than ours."
(GC & EM)