Next on the preview list is the Stayer’s Hurdle, where until last night I was planning to write about reluctantly admitting UNOWHATIMEANHARRY (170) was basically as solid as they come and as equally an uninspiring a selection. Up until last night I was going to say he probably should be odds on, so any odds against was a value bet to take. But up until last night I didn’t believe NICHOLS CANYON (172) was likely to run.
Let’s start with the favourite. UNOWHATIMEANHARRY (170) won the Albert Bartlett last year over this course in a race I didn’t rate too highly but this season he reappeared and put in a stunning display at Newbury where he earned the rating I have given him. He just seems the type of horse you want for this race in he just gets the job done, something akin to Big Buck’s in style (if not quite that class). However, his last two runs have seen him return figures a bit below that Newbury run so it was in the back of my mind if he was up to that standard still and as a nine year old I was keen to find something to take him on.
That was proving a problem as I couldn’t see something in the line-up that had it in them to take on the favourite and potentially record a 170+ number likely needed to accomplish the take. BALLYOPTIC (164), LIL ROCKERFELLER (163), SHANESHILL (161), AGRAPART (160), COLE HARDEN (158), CLONDAW WARRIOR (156), JEZKI (155) all seemed to have plenty to find to challenge the favourite. But then last night Graham Wylie intimated that NICHOLS CANYON (172) was now a likely runner in the race, and he can serve it up to the favourite….and beat him.
Nichols Canyon is one of the most underrated horses in training, yet he has won seven grade ones (that is not a typo) and beaten the monster Faugheen. People always crab that run, saying Faugheen was below his best but the clock doesn’t back that up and when he gets his conditions Nichols Canyon is a seriously top class horse. Let me explain those conditions…
He was previously with John Gosden on the flat and is in fact one of the highest rated flat horses to go jumping that I can find, and his form on the flat gives us clues as to his preferences. In nine runs on the flat he encountered soft ground or worse 3 times, winning twice and finishing runner-up in a Group 3 on his one defeat. On the other six occasions he encountered a sounder surface he failed to win. So that is our first clue….soft ground. Sure nothing ground breaking there, but he also ran with credit in the two mile Queens Vase at Royal Ascot (on better ground in fact) and the old adage dictates that if you get two miles on the flat you will be a stayer over obstacles. So this led me to thinking at looking at his form with the criteria of including runs on softer ground over 2 miles or more, but allowing for runs over more than 2 miles on better ground. In effect we are dismissing his runs over 2 miles on good ground with the belief that a) he prefers softer ground, and b) wants further. Over 2 miles on soft ground his stamina can come into play, and similarly over further on better ground there is less emphasis on pace….on 2 miles on better ground I believe he just gets a bit outpaced. The final caveat I wanted to look at was based off his aggressive running style, and running big speed figures leading me to believe he takes a lot out of himself in his runs. So, I allowed for him having a 30 day rest in between his runs as well and then looked at his form.
In these conditions Nichols Canyon is nigh on unbeatable. Namely with a 30 day break in soft ground over 2 miles or more, or over more than 2 miles in better ground. He has raced under these conditions 8 times, winning 7 of them with his one defeat when finishing third in a farcical renewal of the Neptune where he got outpaced in a sprint finish by Windsor Park (a horse he beat on his previous start). Furthermore, the last 4 of his wins in such conditions have all been in grade 1 races. He won Grade 1s at the Aintree and Punchestown festivals on better ground over 2.5m so this gives me optimism for his ability to handle better ground over a longer trip where the pace isn’t as fast.
This season he put up a stunning performance beating Jer’s Girl at Punchestown on his comeback in soft ground over 2 miles…he just galloped them into submission here and the trainers post-race comments all emphasised his stamina. In short he is a horse who can sustain this sort of relentless gallop for longer than most horses. On better ground he can be a bit outpaced but on soft ground or over a trip he can just gallop horses into the ground. His next two runs have seen his critics reappear but these runs were on better ground over two miles and he couldn’t go the pace to match the well fancied Champion Hurdler Petit Mouchoir.
Should he turn up in the Stayer’s Hurdle he will not have run for 44 days and comes there fresher than he has on his last two Cheltenham festival appearances where he has finished third in both the Neptune and Champion Hurdle. There is as ever a caveat or two and I would be concerned about his fall last time out having left its mark, and there is an argument for his preference to go right handed. He jumps to his right at times, and his form at right-handed tracks over jumps reads 11111, but this is quite a lazy approach I think as he has won Grade 1s at Leopardstown and Aintree so I prefer my deeper analysis to his form.
In short, he comes here a fresh horse and steps up to a trip that should suit regardless of the ground in my opinion (though any juice in the ground the better). If he had turned up in a very soft ground Champion Hurdle I would fancy him but it sounds like the intention is to run here, and at 12/1 he is a monstrous price.
- Nichols Canyon