Canyon bound for grand US adventure
Willie Mullins' reluctance to nominate specific Cheltenham Festival targets for his elite equine squad is well known, but Nichols Canyon may be set for an American adventure that could render the World Hurdle his only conceivable destination next March.
Apart from his British exploits, the champion trainer has embarked on lucrative excursions to France, Australia and Japan in recent years.
Now, he looks poised to send one of his best and most versatile hurdlers Stateside for a tilt at Saturday week's Calvin Houghland Iroquois Hurdle. The winner of the $200,000 three-miler, a Grade One that takes place on the 75th Iroquois Steeplechase fixture in Nashville, will be eligible for a $500,000 bonus should it go on to follow up in Cheltenham's £300,000 equivalent.
Billed the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge, it is certainly a valuable incentive.
As a six-time Grade One winner, the Graham Wylie-owned Nichols Canyon would surely set a tall standard in the American contest, which has attracted 10 entries, including stablemate, Shaneshill.
Third in the Champion and Aintree Hurdles, Nichols Canyon has yet to race beyond two-and-a-half miles. "At the moment, probably Nichols Canyon is the horse we would hope to get out there, if not the two of them," Mullins said of his US entries. "I am not familiar yet with what else is in the race and there a few other things I have to check out, but both horses are well and could potentially go out to the USA.
"I think we need to internat-ionalise jump racing, so I am happy to support the Brown Advisory Iroquois Cheltenham Challenge."
Meanwhile, Noel Fehily was airlifted to Derriford Hospital for precautionary back X-rays yesterday following a heavy fall over hurdles at Newton Abbot.
Pat Masterson, the track manager, said: "Noel is conscious and talking away. His hands and legs are moving but, as a precaution, the doctors didn't want to take any risks, so that's why he has gone in the air ambulance."