The New One to dethrone Hurricane Fly
Willie Mullins-trained gelding bids to land prize for third time
Hurricane Fly, ridden by Ruby Walsh, regains his Stan James Champion Hurdle crown at last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Hurricane Fly is one of the all-time great hurdlers, twice a Stan James Champion Hurdle winner, with a world-record number of Grade One wins already in the bag, and possessed of Willie Mullins’s conviction that he’s better now than ever before.
So betting against him becoming just the sixth horse to win a third Champion Hurdle verges on the contrary: but the suspicion remains of a Cheltenham chink that the young pretender The New One can take advantage of today.
Arguing for vulnerability in a horse with a record of two wins and a third from three Champion Hurdle starts would ordinarily go well beyond contrary towards perversity but even Ruby Walsh admits Hurricane Fly has never shown his best at Cheltenham.
That he still has the course record he has indicates the depth of ability the 10-year-old superstar possesses.
And Walsh is convinced the real ‘Fly’ will emerge this time.
The festival’s all-time winning-most jockey excuses the great horse on the basis he was too rank in 2011, not right in 2012, and blames himself for misjudging the frantic early pace in last year’s race.
He makes it sound reassuringly convincing too, except excuses are rarely reached for by the truly great, which both horse and rider in this case undoubtedly are.
Maybe today Hurricane Fly will finally put to bed in style any suggestion that he tolerates the greatest National Hunt stage of all rather than thrives on it: and if he does it will be the coronation of an equine talent to rank with Istabraq, Monksfield or any other legendary Irish hurdler of the past.
But what we do know is that this Champion Hurdle looks easily the most competitive the Irish favourite has run in to date.
A rare crop of emerging talent that includes JP McManus’s Anglo-Irish pair of My Tent Or Yours and Jezki is joined by perhaps the most impressive Triumph Hurdle winner ever in Our Conor and most intriguingly of all a young English talent in The New One.
If Hurricane Fly is to put these upstarts in their place then he really will have to step up to the plate and put to bed any idea of a ‘Cheltenham factor’.
If I hadn’t followed the pace last year, I’d have arrived turning in hard on the bridle and he’d have blown everybody away. But he still managed to win.”
Nevertheless the only ‘Cheltenham factor’ for The New One is the cast-iron one that he thrives at the place.
The father-son team of Nigel and Sam Twiston-Davies have been targeting today ever since their new stable star bounded up the hill in last year’s Neptune, a tried and trusted route to Champion Hurdle glory taken in the past by Istabraq and Hardy Eustace.
In the circumstances, Kempton’s sharp two miles was always going to suit My Tent Or Yours more at Christmas but even so, it was only a sloppy jump at the last that decisively swung things the winner’s way. Unlike his old rival, The New One has enjoyed an incident-free preparation and of the young pretenders he looks the most potent.
“It must be a plus he has done so well at the course,” Twiston-Davies Snr said yesterday.
“I think it’s the hottest Champion Hurdle there has been for a very long time.
“I don’t think his jumping’s a problem. It’s just such a shame he met that one hurdle wrong at Kempton and I’m not worried about the pace; a slow pace will suit the others as much as him,” he said.
Our Conor was a revelation here in 2013 and has been honourably mixing it with Hurricane Fly this winter. The youngest contender in today’s equation is a wonderfully fluent jumper but the nagging doubt remains that the veteran McManus pacemaker Captain Cee Bee was beaten less than four lengths in the Irish Champion, a stark piece of evidence that makes one wonder about the overall value of that form.
There is also the suspicion that time waits for no champion, even one as brilliant as Hurricane Fly. The last 10-year-old to win was Sea Pigeon all the way back in 1980.
Hurricane Fly bows to nothing in terms of achievement. But he might have to bow to The New One today.