Brave Nichols Canyon takes flight in Ryanair at Leopardstown
Nichols Canyon showed all the old battling qualities of his former stablemate Hurricane Fly to win the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The now-retired Hurricane Fly won four of the previous five renewals of this race but for much of the home straight Nichols Canyon looked like coming off second best.
Henry de Bromhead's Identity Thief proved his win in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle was no fluke as he cruised into the lead before the final flight.
Bryan Cooper got a great leap out of Identity Thief, which appeared to seal victory, but Ruby Walsh threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Nichols Canyon.
The Willie Mullins-trained 2-5 favourite began to eat into the gap and eventually got on top to win going away by two lengths.
Nichols Canyon was winning a sixth Grade One from just nine starts over hurdles.
Winning owner Graham Wylie said: "That was tough to watch, but he's a tough horse.
"I'm not sure if he'll run before Cheltenham - I'll have to speak to Willie - but it's great to have a live Champion Hurdle horse and hopefully he'll get there."
Mullins said: "His battling qualities and his hurdling qualities remind me of Hurricane Fly, and the size of him.
"He probably hasn't the zip of Hurricane Fly - the speed - but he has his stamina and aggressiveness.
"It's going to take him a long time to get over that now, and that's my worry if we're looking at the Irish Champion Hurdle.
"He's got huge reserves. I'm delighted with him."
Walsh said: "He's done everything we've asked of him and he's going forward and improving."
De Bromhead said of Identity Thief: "I felt the ground was playing to his favour more than ours so I'm delighted.
"He'll go down the Champion Hurdle route - I was thinking that after he won at Down Royal."
Mullins completed a double when Lucky Pass justified 4-7 favouritism by three and three-quarter lengths from First Figaro in the Ryanair Flat Race.