Petit Mouchoir enters Champion Hurdle picture
Petit Mouchoir staked his claim for a tilt at the Stan James Champion Hurdle when slamming odds-on favourite Nichols Canyon by seven lengths in the Ryanair Hurdle, giving his owner Michael O'Leary a first win in a Grade 1 race he sponsors.
The Henry de Bromhead-trained five-year-old, a 6-1 shot, made virtually all and quickened away from Nichols Canyon after two out for a smooth victory.
The winner, who was recording his first Grade 1 success, was cut into a general 10-1 for the Champion Hurdle, having been 25-1 before the race.
O'Leary, who had a one-two in the Lexus Chase on Wednesday when Outlander beat Don Poli, said: "Gigginstown had never won a Ryanair-sponsored Grade 1 until now. I've been used to presenting the prize to JP McManus, Willie Mullins and others, so this is a pleasant change."
For De Bromhead, Petit Mouchoir's win came as a relief after a few well-fancied horses had failed to live up to expectations during the meeting.
"We thought we had serious chances in a number of races here this week but it didn't happen," he said. "We were reminded pretty quickly that there are plenty of good horses in other yards.
"It's our first win of the week here but the horses have been running well and we've won races at Kempton, Limerick and Down Royal over the past few days."
The trainer added: "I'm delighted Petit Mouchoir won in such good style. He had good form as a novice last season and this was his third run since we got him.
"Bryan Cooper was adamant he would have won the Fighting Fifth last month but for falling three out, and today he jumped brilliantly.
"He's a lovely galloping type with a huge stride and while I'm not sure about plans from here on, the Irish Champion Hurdle back here next month would look an obvious target."
The winner's performance impressed Cooper, who said: "He was very good. He's very straightforward and jumped, travelled and quickened really well. He's a real two-miler and a very good horse."
Those 10-1 quotes make Petit Mouchoir fourth favourite for the Champion Hurdle, with two of the three in front of him – Faugheen and Annie Power – yet to run this season and the other, Yanworth, perhaps not a natural two-miler.
Nichols Canyon was attempting to win the race for the second consecutive year but the seven-time Grade 1 winner was left behind when Petit Mouchoir set sail for home before the straight.
Mullins, who trained the winner before the split from Gigginstown in September, said: "Nichols Canyon was disappointing. I knew from early on that he was struggling. Maybe it was the strong pace they went, I don't know. We'll take him home and see if we can find a reason."
Two of De Bromhead's disappointing performers at the four-day festival were Identity Thief, who was pulled up in the Racing Post Novice Chase on Monday, and Valseur Lido, who weakened in the closing stages to finish fourth in the Lexus Chase on Wednesday.
"Identity Thief is still quite stiff and sore," De Bromhead reported. "We don't think it's anything serious but we'll be taking things easy with him for a bit.
"It looked as if Valseur Lido didn't stay, although I can't be sure that was the case. He was fine this morning."