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Mullins calls on Nichols Canyon in bid for sixth straight win

Nichols Canyon, pictured beating Identity Thief in last year's Ryanair Hurdle, is back to defend his crown
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2.20 Punchestown
stanjames.com Morgiana Hurdle
 (Grade 1) | 2m, 4yo+ |  | ATR

With stable stars Annie Power, Faugheen and Vroum Vroum Mag absent, Willie Mullins calls on the talented substitutes of Nichols Canyon, Sempre Medici and Simenon in a bid to land his sixth successive victory in the Grade 1 highlight.

In a spellbinding career spanning ten seasons, record-breaker Hurricane Fly recorded three of his 22 Grade 1 wins in this race between 2012 and 2014 for the champion trainer.

Mullins also won the race in 2011 with Thousand Stars, while Nichols Canyon provided somewhat of a shock victory when inflicting the sole defeat of Faugheen’s otherwise perfect career here 12 months ago, and the tenacious hurdler is back for more.

Other noteworthy winners of the Morgiana include Champion Hurdle winner Brave Inca in 2005, while World Hurdle hero Solwhit recorded back-to-back successes here in 2009 and 2010.

While Mullins appears to hold the aces, JP McManus is represented by Jer’s Girl and Ivanovich Gorbatov as he bids to deny the Irish champion trainer another victory.

Ivanovich Gorbatov, last season's Triumph Hurdle winner but disappointing upon his return to action at Naas this month, will be partnered by Davy Russell, while Barry Geraghty opts to ride Jer’s Girl for her eagerly anticipated seasonal debut.

Mullins admits Nichols Canyon looks his best chance of winning his sixth straight Morgiana Hurdle.

He said: “Nichols Canyon is our number one in the Morgiana. We were aiming him at the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in December, but with Annie Power, Faugheen and Vroum Vroum Mag all missing, we said we'd give him a shot at winning his seventh Grade 1.

“He's been working well and should run a big race as he usually does. We hope both Simenon and Sempre Medici will be able to pick up some prize-money.”

Jer’s Girl improved at a rapid rate last season and recorded a Grade 1 success at the Fairyhouse Easter meeting, and Gavin Cromwell is hoping she has progressed again during the summer.

He said: “It’s a big plus that we're not taking on Annie Power, Faugheen or Vroum Vroum Mag on our first start of the season, but Nichols Canyon is a very good horse and is a deserving favourite.

“It’s a big step, and it’s a bit of an unknown, but she’s in great form and she's as fit as I can get her at home. She has been ready to start off for a while now. Her form has got a couple of boosts recently when horses she previously beat have won well, such as Asthuria and O O Seven.

“Ground won’t be an issue and, although she stays well, two miles won’t be an issue either. Hopefully she'll make a good account of herself.”

Joseph O’Brien is hopeful Ivanovich Gorbatov will strip fitter for his Naas run. “He's in great form and should come on from his first run," he said.

“Dropping back to two miles should suit him as well as he has lots of speed. It’s a good race with last year’s winner Nichols Canyon and Jer’s Girl looking like they'll be tough to beat, but I'm hoping for a good run from him.”

Nichols Canyon is our number one. He's been working well and should run a big race as he usually does
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