Hurricane Fly produces another stunning display at Punchestown
Willie Mullins’s star hurdler claims 16th Grade One title as part of winning treble
Ruby Walsh riding Hurricane Fly clear the last to win The Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Hurricane Fly confirmed he remains the top dog in the two-mile hurdling division with another awesome display in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Uncharacteristically flat performances in last year’s Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, and even when winning this race 12 months ago, had the doubters suggesting the Willie Mullins-trained superstar was past his best, but he has roared back brilliantly this term.
A fourth successive victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown was followed by a successful bid to regain his Cheltenham crown and he was a 1 to 4 favourite to make it a fourth win in the Punchestown equivalent.
With stable companion Thousand Stars playing pacesetter, Hurricane Fly was settled third by Ruby Walsh, with Cheltenham runner-up Rock On Ruby the meat in the sandwich.
Rock On Ruby went to the lead rounding the home turn as the pace gradually increased, but Walsh was sat motionless aboard Hurricane Fly and the writing was on the wall for the British raider.
Once given his head on the run towards the final flight, Hurricane Fly quickly sealed the deal, hurdling fluently and picking up well on the run-in to win in hugely impressive fashion by seven lengths.
With Walsh saluting the crowd, Thousand Stars (14 to 1) got back up to beat Rock On Ruby to give Mullins a one-two.
Hurricane Fly was securing his 16th victory in Grade One company.
Mullins said: “He can handle any conditions and it’s great to have a man like Ruby on him. Paul (Townend) does a lot of work on him at home.
“Himself and Quevega did a piece of work which blew me away last weekend, but Champagne Fever worked very well as well and he ran disappointingly on Tuesday, so we were keeping our fingers crossed all week the work was as good as it looked.
“When Rock On Ruby made his move to join Thousand Stars it suited Ruby as he had something to bring him into the straight.
“When his (Rock On Ruby’s) challenge fizzled out, Ruby just let our fellow rock and roll.
“He hasn’t many miles on the clock so hopefully we can keep him fresh and he’ll keep coming back.”
Mullins admits he is keen on a tilt at the three-mile-one-furlong French Champion Hurdle for Hurricane Fly, but it seems more likely he will instead be given a summer break.
“I’d love to have a crack at the French Champion Hurdle. I’ve no doubt he will stay,” said the champion trainer.
“Dawn Run did the treble (Irish Champion Hurdle, English Champion Hurdle and French Champion Hurdle) and I’ve no doubt he could, but we’ll probably put him away.”
Walsh said: “He’s an exceptional little horse. He just travelled so well and he put the race to bed in just three strides. He knows exactly what he’s doing.”
On another superb day at the office for the champion trainer, Mullins also clinched the other Grade One on the card, the Tattersalls Ireland Champion Novice Hurdle, with the Davy Russell-ridden Un Atout .
It was hard work for the 4 to 6 favourite, but he dug deep to beat Gary Moore’s raider Ubak by a neck.
Mullins said: “He was good. He’s a three-parts brother to Sir Des Champs and toughness is their middle name.
“My French connections always thought he could be a better horse than Sir Des Champs — that’s the kind of potential we hope he might have.
“He’s a good jumper and he’s obviously going to be a staying novice chaser next year.”
Mullins completed a hat-trick as 5 to 4 favourite Un De Sceaux , who is unbeaten in three races, barely came off the bridle in the Novice Hurdle.
Mullins said: “We might have found another one. He looks a real nice horse and I’d imagine we’ll stay hurdling.”
The victory leaves Walsh four winners behind reigning champion Russell in the race for the jockeys’ title, which ends on Saturday.
Jim Dreaper’s Gooneylla got up in the shadow of the post to take top honours in the 3m 6f Handicap Chase under a delighted Jamie Flynn, while Robbie Power guided Jessica Harrington’s Madam Bovary to a clear-cut victory in the Novice Handicap Chase.
Tropical Three later claimed the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association Fillies Scheme Premier Bumper for the Michael Hourigan team.