Historic five-in-a-row beckons for Hurricane Fly in Champion Hurdle

Jezki likely to throw down gauntlet once again to Willie Mullins’ star

Ruby Walsh guides Hurricane Fly to victory over Tony McCoy on Jezki in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown in December. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

Ruby Walsh guides Hurricane Fly to victory over Tony McCoy on Jezki in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown in December. Photograph: Donall Farmer/Inpho

 

excellence means he makes history practically every time he sets hoof on a track these days yet even by his remarkable standards a fifth win in a row in Leopardstown’s BHP Irish Champion Hurdle would be exceptional.

It is testament to the overwhelming shadow Cheltenham casts over the racing calendar that it is comparatively recently Hurricane Fly has secured the place in the racing public’s affection that his career has long merited.

The quirk that makes Hurricane Fly’s tally of ‘only’ two Champion Hurdle victories at jump-racing’s greatest festival seem comparatively underwhelming is as hard to pin down as any precise reason why Willie Mullins’s superstar has never seemed quite at his best at Cheltenham over the years.

But consistent overall excellence has finally confirmed that this is a great horse, one of the true greats of the sport. A win in this weekend’s €110,000 feature will embellish ‘the Fly’s’ reputation.

Unbeaten record

Leopardstown

If the latter’s legendary status was established around Cheltenham, Hurricane Fly’s is based mainly on domestic excellence. Ante-post bookmaker odds of 12-1 about March seem almost insulting considering the horse but they are based on a presumption of Cheltenham frailty. Even at 11, however, the veteran champion appears bombproof at Leopardstown.

Nevertheless only one 11 year old has previously won the Irish Champion Hurdle – Brave Inca in 2009 – and plenty will point to how Jezki got closer than ever before at the Dublin track when running Hurricane Fly to half a length three weeks ago.

Apart from the four year old Fiscal Focus, Jezki leads the exact same field from that Ryanair Hurdle into this race, and Jezki’s profile appears to indicate a horse who improves as the season progresses.

But it’s important to remember from Christmas is how for so long a Hurricane Fly victory looked anything but likely.

A shadow in front of the first hurdle resulted in an extravagant leap which seemed to impact on his jumping in confidence terms for the first half of the race. Ruby Walsh never looked very comfortable while Tony McCoy on Jezki was always in position-A. Yet even in such circumstances Hurricane Fly found a way to win.

Champion trainer Willie Mullins appears concerned about ground conditions getting too dry. “Our fellow excels on soft ground so it’s probably not ideal. He doesn’t like to lose. Winning is part of his make-up.”

Sunday’s Grade One support event features the top likely trio in the betting for the Cheltenham Arkle line-up.

Top-flight test

Clarcam

Clarcam’s stable companion No More Heroes is potentially a stand-out in the Grade Two novice hurdle and Gordon Elliott’s bumper hope Robin Thyme will provide an interesting form link to Up For Review in the finale.

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