Hughes bullish about Our Conor’s chances at Cheltenham

Trainer reports hurdler in top shape after Leopardstown

Dessie Hughes is confident Our Conor will head to the Cheltenham Festival with a "fighting chance" of claiming Champion Hurdle glory after making Hurricane Fly pull out all the stops at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Last year’s devastating Triumph Hurdle winner was firmly put in his place by Hurricane Fly in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, but with improvement expected, connections were keen to have another crack at Willie Mullins’s superstar in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle.

For a brief moment after touching down after the final flight Our Conor looked set to dethrone the champion, but Hurricane Fly roared back on the run-in to secure his fourth successive Irish Champion Hurdle crown and his 19th Grade One in all.

Having got significantly closer to Hurricane Fly than he had done a month earlier, Hughes can see no reason why Our Conor could not get the better of the dual Champion Hurdle hero when they meet for a third time at Prestbury Park in March.

Hughes said: “He’s come out of the race absolutely fine and I’m very happy with where we are with the horse.

“We were a bit disappointed as it looked as though he might have it won at one stage, but I’m thrilled he improved, which I thought he would.

“He’s just a bit young and for a five-year-old to do that, I think was a tremendous performance.

“He was nearly the last horse off the bridle which was a fantastic feat in itself beside that horse (Hurricane Fly).

“For three or four strides after the last I thought we had him but the other old boy just wore him down.

“Being a young horse, he should improve and I think Cheltenham improved him last year; he was definitely a stone better horse last year at Cheltenham.

“He appeared to love the track (at Cheltenham) and he’s definitely a better horse on better ground.

“All in all, I think we’ll be going to Cheltenham more optimistic than pessimistic and he must go there with a fighting chance.”