Nichols Canyon set for ninth Grade 1 success at Punchestown

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A field of 11 have been declared for tomorrow’s Group 1 Punchestown Champion Hurdle with Willie Mullins unleashing five against the field however, star mare Annie Power, in foal to Camelot, isn’t amongst the quintet and will race against her own sex in Saturday’s G1 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

County Hurdle winner Arctic Fire heads the market as the 7/2 favourite with BetVictor after his terrific weight-carrying performance at last month’s festival but the eye is drawn to Gordon Elliott’s Labaik at 16/1.

BetVictor refunded all bets on the enigmatic grey after he planted himself at the start in Tuesday’s Group 1 Novice Hurdle, losing all chance against his six rivals, and will be doing so once again should he fail to give punters a run for their money in Friday’s feature. A horse who is quite the opposite to Labaik, and is the model of professionalism, is Nichols Canyon (5.30) in the feature Champion Stayers’ Hurdle.

The selection relished the step up to three miles last month at the Cheltenham Festival, winning the Stayers’ Hurdle under Ruby Walsh, and is unopposable in his bid to claim an incredible ninth Group 1 success. Last year’s winner One Track Mind appears to have been saved for the race, and looks the biggest danger in first-time head-gear.

I believe Minella Awards (6.05) could make into a potential Stayers’ Hurdle horse next season and should reward each-way support in the 3m Handicap Hurdle under regular partner Noel Fehily.

The well-bred six-year-old showed a tremendous turn of foot to win the EBF Final at Sandown and, with just four starts under rules, remains open to untold amounts of improvement. Harry Fry has a good record at this festival, and I believe Minella Awards must go close from just a 6lb rise at the weights.

Trainer Jessica Harrington has enjoyed a terrific climax to the campaign and can land a nice pot with Don’t Touch It (4.15) n the 2m Handicap Chase under Mark Walsh.

The selection has won just one of his five starts over the larger obstacles but was a Group 1 winner over hurdles at the Punchestown Festival 12 months ago and looks well-treated from a mark of 144.

JP McManus can complete a quick-fire double with Great Field (6.40) in the Group 1 2m Novice Chase.

The selection is unbeaten in three starts over fences, all ridden by today’s pilot Jody McGarvey who rode a first Punchestown Festival success aboard Western Boy for Pat Fahy on Tuesday. The selection can go right to the top over the larger obstacles and looks a terrific chaser for connections next term.

It’s day two of Perth’s three-day April meeting where Duke of Navan (2.35) can land the 2m Handicap Chase for locally-based trainer Nicky Richards.

The gelding has long been the apple of his handler’s eye and the handicapper has given the nine-year-old a chance, dropping 7lb for his first appearance in over 18 months. The selection looked magnificent when bolting-up at Ayr’s Scottish National meeting two years ago, and a repeat performance must see him go very close from just a pound higher mark.

Backers of Spiculas (3.35) have had their fingers burnt on all four starts for the Malcolm Jefferson yard but I hope he can make it third fifth lucky in the 2m Novices’ Handicap Chase under regular partner Brian Hughes.

The selection was punted like a good thing on debut for the Jefferson yard up at Sedgefield, tiring in ground softer than ideal, and running to a fair level thereafter. He remains on the same mark he arrived at the yard in, and I remain adamant he’s better than a 116-rated handicapper.

Bailey’s Concerto will appreciate the forecast better conditions after an excellent second on ground softer than ideal last time out at Carlisle however, preference lies instead with Value at Risk (4.10) for the in-form Skelton brothers in the feature handicap chase over an extended two and a half miles.

The eight-year-old looked a potential world-beater for connections when joining the Skelton yard 18 months ago and, after failing to stay three miles last time out at Aintree, is a confident selection to score dropping back down in trip in a first–time tongue-tie.

For all the latest odds head to BetVictor.com and follow @BetVictorRacing on Twitter.