Thursday 14 December 2017

Mullins kingpins scare off Irish Champion rivals

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Willie Mullins's stranglehold on the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle looks poised to continue after just two horses were left with the option to tackle his elite trio in Sunday's Grade One.

If the Closutton genius's exceptional Faugheen gets the chance to set the record straight with Nichols Canyon and fellow stablemate Arctic Fire, a thrilling spectacle still lies in store.

Having conquered Faugheen in the Morgiana Hurdle, Graham Wylie's Nichols Canyon remains the only horse to have beaten the Rich Ricci-owned eight-year-old in 13 starts across all codes. Arctic Fire, which is owned by Wicklow Bloodstock, got closest to Faugheen at Cheltenham last March. Mullins has indicated that the horses' respective owners are all keen to have a stab at Sunday's €110,000 two-miler.

The vastly inferior duo of Aidan O'Brien's Plinth and Pat Shanahan's King Of The Picts are the only others engaged for a race that offers prize money to the first six, so the champion trainer should at the very least enhance his own record in the race.

With five wins supplied by the mighty Hurricane Fly in successive years to 2015, Mullins is the most successful trainer in the 66-year history of the Irish Champion Hurdle.

Faugheen - the likely mount of stable jockey Ruby Walsh - is a best-priced 4/9 to stretch that run to six, with Nichols Canyon 7/2 and Arctic Fire 6/1. Plinth can be backed at 125/1 and King Of the Picts at 200/1. Mullins also has the 1/5 favourite in Douvan for the card's other Grade One, the Arkle Novices' Chase. Of the eight names to go forward for the two-miler, which the stable won last year with the brilliant Un De Sceaux, he is responsible for five, including the smart Shaneshill and Outlander.

Meanwhile, American Triple Crown hero American Pharoah was named the 2015 Longines World's Best Racehorse after a mark of 130 saw him rated four pounds superior to the exceptional Derby and Prix de l'Arc victor, Golden Horn.

Now standing at Coolmore's Ashford Stud in Kentucky, American Pharoah bounced back from a first defeat in nine starts over more than a year to bring the house down by pulverising the Breeders' Cup Classic field on his Keeneland swansong.

The Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, in which Golden Horn so memorably overcame a poor draw to win under an inspired Frankie Dettori, earned the accolade of the world's best race last year. "There are comparisons between American Pharoah and Golden Horn," said British handicapper Phil Smith. "They both ran eight times, which is a lot. They showed durability."

Aidan O'Brien was acknowledged to have trained the best juveniles in Europe, with Air Force Blue and Minding topping their respective divisions.

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