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It was a sad day for National Hunt fans at Leopardstown with fatal injuries suffered by two Grade 1 winners. Nichols Canyon lost his life in the Christmas Hurdle when falling at the fifth flight. The reigning Stayers' Hurdle champion, he won 8 Grade 1s during his career and is the only horse to have beaten Faugheen when defeating his stablemate in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November 2015. Listed class on the Flat when trained by John Gosden, he was a Grade 1 winner over trips ranging from two to three miles and provided his owners Andrea and Graham Wylie with a lot of fond memories. Despite winning three Grade 1s at Leopardstown, he also hit the deck on three occasions. Sadly, he paid the ultimate price for the third one. Still only seven, the gelded son of Authorized won 9 of his 20 starts over jumps earning £641,333 in prize-money. He was a terrific horse.
Unfortunately, Zabana suffered the same fate in the Leopardstown Christmas Chase. Partnered by his regular rider, Davy Russell, the eight year old fell at the seventh fence. A Grade 1 winning novice chaser for Andrew Lynch at the Punchestown Festival in April last year, he was also runner-up in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival the previous campaign.
The outcome of the aforementioned Leopardstown Christmas Chase clouded, rather than clearer, the Gold Cup picture with leading contenders Sizing John and Yorkhill (looked a non stayer having raced too keenly early on) failing to fire. I would be prepared to forgive the first named because he appeared to run flat as though this race had come too soon after his victory in the John Durkan Memorial Chase at Punchestown earlier this month. The winner Road To Respect is improving at a rate of knots and threw his hat in the ring as far as steeplechasing's Blue Riband is concerned. I thought Minella Rocco and Valseur Lido ran well in behind.
Apple's Jade has been earmarked for a repeat bid in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March but his connections must be tempted to steer her towards the Stayers' Hurdle having proved her stamina over three miles in the Christmas Hurdle. Gordon Elliott's five year old was gaining her seventh Grade 1 win as she got the better of Coral Cup winner Supersundae by half a length. Davy Russell's mount was full of running turning for home and, although she had to battle harder than appeared likely, the Saddler Maker filly won with something in hand. Sam Spinner put down a marker in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot recently, but otherwise it looks a very open division - Unowhatimeanharry has beaten in his last two outings with no obvious excuse. It wouldn't completely surprise me if Thistlecrack reverted back to hurdles and attempted to regain his crown from 2016 but he doesn't look the horse he once was. Apple's Jade would be a very tough nut to crack on a track she is already proven on.
Willie Mullins has more good days than bad ones but he won't look back on Thursday 28th December 2017 with any affection having sent out 0 winners from 15 runners. In fact, only three were placed and, rather like my day, the fall of Bacardys in the finale at Leopardstown rounded off the day in keeping with the rest of it.
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