Mullins thrilled as Hurricane strikes


RACING:Famously only one horse has ever regained the Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham but Hurricane Fly is now clear favourite to become the second.

Even the 1 to 6 odds he carried with such aplomb to complete a BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle hat-trick at Leopardstown yesterday can’t quantify the impression Hurricane Fly made in overcoming horrendous elements as well as a pair of top-flight opponents.

No horse wins 14 Grade One races without being able to adapt but not many champions have had to face the sort of blizzard-like conditions Hurricane Fly overcame in the €110,000 highlight.

On top of gruelling ground anyway, the sleety snow and high winds seemed determined to place even more of a winter emphasis on durability and yet Hurricane Fly never came off the bridle in a display of rare class.

Ruby Walsh declared the sauntering five-length defeat of stable-companion Thousand Stars, with Binocular a nose back in third, as good a performance as Hurricane Fly has ever put up, and trainer Willie Mullins pondered whether the 2011 Cheltenham champion may even be getting better with time.

“He is holding his form, and might even be improving. But if I can get him to Cheltenham in seven weeks in this sort of form, I’ll be happy,” said Mullins who went on to complete a 34 to 1 four-timer on the card.

“He has beaten a dual-French Champion Hurdle winner and English Champion Hurdle winner and he looks to be back to what he was. Conditions were terrible but the speed he showed on the bend, it looked like he’d just jumped in,” he added.

Hurricane Fly clocked the exact same time yesterday as when winning the Leopardstown race in 2012, a prelude to an anti-climatic third at Cheltenham. But the all-conquering Mullins-Walsh team are convinced it can be different this time.

“He is keeping his strength and conditions now, which he didn’t do last season,” explained the trainer while Walsh reported: “He won this race impressively last year but this year he has had a much better preparation.”

Bookmaker reaction was to cut Hurricane Fly to 3 to 1 clear favourite for Cheltenham and yesterday’s dominant display will certainly give Nicky Henderson plenty to ponder.

Binocular’s trainer has a powerful Champion Hurdle team headed by Darlan and Grandouet and he also plans to give his 2010 winner another crack at the championship.

“Binocular hated the ground, we knew that he would before the race. He blew up at the second last but ran on to the line,” Henderson said.

“He needed the run having been held up by the bad weather and now we will decide whether he has another run or a racecourse gallop.”

The stewards quizzed Tony McCoy over the ride he gave Binocular, focusing on the British champion jockey’s efforts from the turn-out of the back-straight to the turn-in.

McCoy explained he was tracking Hurricane Fly but felt he didn’t have the horse to challenge the winner and hoped to secure the runner-up spot. However, he was unable to get second from Thousand Stars and added that Binocular leaned left due to tiredness. His explanation was accepted.

The focus is on Cheltenham with a vengeance now but Mullins is willing to make an exception for Thousand Stars who will be pointed instead at the Aintree Hurdle in April.

“I think we will keep him for Aintree. The race is run on a Thursday now so it leaves less time from Cheltenham,” he said.

The name of the last horse to regain the Cheltenham title was Comedy Of Errors (1973-75.) It might take such a comedy to deny Hurricane Fly a similar achievement.

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