Hurricane Fly impossible to oppose
Pont Alexandre can complete Mullins-Walsh Grade 1 double
Hurricane Fly clears the last on the way to winning last month’s Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Photograph: Inpho
Hurricane Fly chases a remarkable four-in-a-row in today’s Rabobank Champion Hurdle and those bookmakers who reckon he may return his shortest ever Punchestown festival SP look to have got it right.
Rock On Ruby failed by two and a half lengths when handing the Cheltenham title back to Hurricane Fly a month ago and if he failed to win there, it’s hard to make an argument for him doing so here.
It’s a measure of Hurricane Fly’s class that despite winning the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham twice there remains a suspicion he hasn’t yet shown his true abilities across-channel. It’s more than a suspicion that he had both Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins wondering what was going on at halfway in Cheltenham six weeks ago when Hurricane Fly looked to be seriously struggling at halfway. Walsh’s sangfroid in doing as little as possible, and allowing the horse regain momentum in his own-time, was monumental but ultimately vindicated in style.
There have been times on home-ground too when his performance levels have dipped – for instance when scrambling home at a 4/11 in this race last year – but that has definitely not been the case here this season.
Instead a trio of wins have helped cement Hurricane Fly’s status as one of Ireland’s greatest ever hurdlers and Rock On Ruby is facing a monumental task in what is effectively an away-tie for him.
‘Fit and well’
“It’s hard to make a real case to say, ‘Right, we’re going over there to beat him’, especially with the ground conditions,” Rock On Ruby’s trainer Harry Fry admitted yesterday. “But our horse is very fit and well. At the end of the day, it’s a horse race and anything can happen.”
With just three days gone and seven winners already on the board, Mullins is heading for another vintage Punchestown like 2009 and 2010. However, defeat for Hurricane Fly will be the shock of the week.
“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to settle him and maybe it’s working, as he’s not as aggressive as he used to be,” said Mullins yesterday, remembering Cheltenham. “It’s an away game for Rock On Ruby, where for us it’s just up the road.”
That road looks like having a 16th Grade One, and a 20th career win in all, at the end of it for Irish jump racing’s highest ever earner.
It might be just as big a shock if the champion trainer can’t land the Grade One Tattersalls Champion Hurdle as Pont Alexandre and Un Atout look to dominate the five-runner field.
Gary Moore’s Grade Two Aintree winner Ubak has been supplemented but he was well behind Pont Alexandre in the Neptune when the Mullins star proved a let-down to those who’d made him a banker.
“Pont Alexandre disappointed us a bit at Cheltenham,” Mullins admitted yesterday. “However, he has been in good form since and maybe the whole occasion just got to him a bit.”
Un Atout was fourth in a hot-looking Supreme and should relish the step up to two and a half miles. But Pont Alexandre looked exceptional before Cheltenham and can rehabilitate his reputation here.