Mullins and McManus to steal Leopardstown show
Sunday’s BHP Irish Champion Hurdle is set to revolve around the hat-trick seeking Hurricane Fly, but the €110,000 feature could also be billed the Willie Mullins v JP McManus show.
Just half a dozen entries remain in the Leopardstown highlight after yesterday’s forfeit stage with the Mullins superstar Hurricane Fly joined by his stable-companions Thousand Stars and Zaidpour.
The latter is currently more likely to line up in tomorrow’s John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park instead but Hurricane Fly remains resolutely on course to maintain Mullins’s belief he is back to the stellar form of his unbeaten 2010-11 season.
“He’s more the horse he was two years ago,” reported Mullins who admits to never being entirely happy with Hurricane Fly last term.
“His homework now suggests he’s up to the same rating as he was two years ago,” he added.
As expected Binocular, the 2010 Champion Hurdle winner at Cheltenham, will travel from Britain for Sunday’s race and another McManus representative Captain Cee Bee has also been left in.
The only non-Mullins/McManus entry is the rank outsider, One Cool Shabra, trained in Co Monaghan by Oliver Brady.
Hurricane Fly is seeking a three-in-a-row in Ireland’s most prestigious hurdles race and has been installed a hot favourite to complete the hat-trick.
However, nobody boasts a better race record than McManus whose legendary Istabraq won four-in-a-row between 1998 and 2001. The champion owner’s silks have also been carried to success by Like-A-Buttefly (2203) and the last overseas-trained winner, Foreman, in 2004.
The shadow of Istabraq will be all over Sunday’s big race. Hurricane Fly won the race named after the retired champion during Christmas and victory this weekend will see him match Istabraq on 14 career Grade One victories.
Ground conditions on the chase course at Leopardstown yesterday were soft to heavy while the inner hurdles course used for Sunday remains soft.
The outer hurdles track will be employed for Saturday’s Boylesports Hurdle for which Inis Meain remains a heavy favourite.
The Denis Hogan-trained horse, purchased recently by Dublin owner Barry Connell, hasn’t raced over flights since April but has been in flying form on the flat since.
Inis Meain also holds an entry in Newbury’s Betfair Hurdle but Hogan said yesterday: “Leopardstown is Plan A, although there’s still a little time to go and I have a bit of work to do with him yet.
“He had been running all summer and hadn’t had a long time off after Aintree so I wanted to give him a break.
“It’s great to have Barry involved in the yard and hopefully we can be lucky for him,” added Hogan.