Faugheen's absence puts spotlight on Petit Mouchoir
BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) | 2m | 4yo+ | ATR/RTE2
With the late defection of Faugheen from today's BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle, the spotlight switches to Petit Mouchoir who is now favourite to beat only three rivals in the Grade 1 Leopardstown event.
A 7-1 shot for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, the Henry de Bromhead-trained six-year-old trounced his rivals in the Ryanair Hurdle over today's course and distance last month, winning that Grade 1 contest by seven lengths.
Formerly trained by Willie Mullins, whose bid for a seventh consecutive win in the race now relies on Nichols Canyon and Footpad, Petit Mouchoir will be attempting to give owners Gigginstown House Stud a first win in the race and De Bromhead, who was successful with Sizing Europe in 2008, a second victory in the event.
Speaking yesterday, De Bromhead said of David Mullins' mount: "He won very well at Christmas and all has gone well with him since. He's in great form and we're looking forward to another good performance."
Mullins has won every running of the event since current sponsors BHP Insurance became involved in 2011, with Hurricane Fly winning on five occasions before Faugheen's victory a year ago.
He said yesterday: "It's most unfortunate that Faugheen misses the race but he wasn't right yesterday morning and seems to have a muscle problem in his hindquarters.
"We still have two good horses to represent us and we think Nichols Canyon, who didn't perform when beaten by Petit Mouchoir at Christmas, is back in better form now. As a seven-time Grade 1 winner, he fully deserves a shot at the race. We'll see how things go before deciding whether we keep him to two miles or go back up in trip.
"Footpad, who won two Grade 1s as a Juvenile last season, is difficult to place. While he was well beaten behind Petit Mouchoir and Nichols Canyon in the Ryanair Hurdle last time, we decided to let him take his chance as there is nice prize-money to be won."
Completing the line-up is last year's JCB Triumph Hurdle winner, Ivanovich Gorbatov who has failed to score in six attempts since his Cheltenham Festival victory and who finished third behind Petit Mouchoir and Nichols Canyon last time.
His trainer Joseph O'Brien said: "He's in good form and has been coming along steadily. If he can improve another bit he should give a good account. The ground will suit and he's run well at Leopardstown."