Nichols Canyon’s death casts shadow over Apple’s Jade victory
Official insists obstacle was ‘fit to jump’ after eight-time Grade One winner is put down
Trainer Gordon Elliott, jockey Davy Russell and owner Michael O’Leary celebrate with Apple’s Jade following the Christmas Hurdle victory at Leopardstown. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
The gap between winners and losers has seldom looked as stark as it did in the aftermath of Apple’s Jade’s dramatic success at Leopardstown on Thursday.
As the hugely popular mare battled past Supasundae in the closing stages of the Grade One Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle the field was diverted around the final flight where Nichols Canyon had sustained fatal injuries in a fall on the previous circuit.
The reigning Stayers Hurdle champion – an eight time Grade One winner – broke a shoulder. As he was put down behind screens in front of the packed stands, Apple’s Jade surge to a half length success at odds of 4-6 was in full flow.
Nichols Canyon had never matched his rival in terms of capturing the public imagination but such a fate was bitter reward for the Willie Mullins-trained star whose honourable career saw him win nine of his 19 races over hurdles.
Purchased out of John Gosden’s yard on the flat, the Graham Wylie-owned star enjoyed his finest hour when surprising at 10-1 in last season’s Stayers at Cheltenham. But he also inflicted the sole defeat of Faugheen’s career, beating his stable companion in the 2015 Morgiana Hurdle.
The obstacle at which Nichols Canyon was injured had been dolled off due to a low-lying sun for the first two races and was jumped for the first time when the Mullins star crashed out under jockey Paul Townend.
“Paul told me it was the shadow of the sun. He came up at the shadow,” Mullins said afterwards. “It’s very tough, especially for it to happen so early in the race.”
It was the same flight at which the Mullins pair Sharjah and Real Steel came down in the big novice event on Wednesday when looking to have the race between them.
The hurdle was jumped without incident in the handicap after Nichols Canyon’s race and clerk of the course Lorcan Wyer was happy the flight was suitable for jumping.
“It was glarey and full-on for the first and second races. But for the third I was happy there wasn’t the same glare and satisfied it was fit to jump,” Wyer confirmed.
The incident inevitably cast a pall over Apple’s Jade’s victory which gave her a seventh top-flight success.
Davy Russell rode her for the first time in public when Jack Kennedy cried off for the day feeling sore after a series of falls. Apple’s Jade is now odds-on with some firms to retain her mares crown at Cheltenham in March. That remains her target despite winning at three miles on her first attempt.
“Davy said if he rode her again he would have got her into a battle earlier. She just loves a battle. The mares race at Cheltenham is the plan,” said Gordon Elliott.
Nevertheless the mare remains an 8-1 shot for the now vacant Stayers crown and Russell reported: “She enjoyed the ground. When she got into a battle she really enjoys that type of race. The extra distance didn’t do her any harm.”