Hurricane Fly can justify his rating at Cheltenham

Handicapper believes top rated hurdler has the form to topple reigning champion Jezki

Hurricane Fly will be bidding to relive the glory of his 2013 Champion Hurdle win at next month’s Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Hurricane Fly will be bidding to relive the glory of his 2013 Champion Hurdle win at next month’s Cheltenham Festival. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

The consensus that Hurricane Fly has never shown his best form at Cheltenham doesn’t appear to be backed up by hard fact as the Anglo-Irish handicappers continue to rate the legendary horse’s 2013 Champion Hurdle victory as his greatest ever performance.

Hurricane Fly’s two and a half length defeat of Rock On Ruby two years ago earned him an official mark of 175, the peak rating of his illustrious career, and one which apparently puts the lie to the theory which suggests he has never shown his best at Cheltenham.

“He has run four times in the Champion Hurdle, won twice, and finished third and fourth: that to me isn’t the form of a horse that doesn’t like Cheltenham,” Ireland’s senior National Hunt handicapper Noel O’Brien said. “In fact the handicappers in both Ireland and Britain agreed that his win in 2013 merited getting the highest rating of his career – 175.”

That perspective could put a different light on current Champion Hurdle betting which sees Willie Mullins’s veteran superstar available at 8-1 for a third title, only fourth in the market behind his younger stable companion Faugheen, the top English hope, The New One, and Jezki, who ‘the Fly’ has beaten three times already this season.

Hugely popular

Hurricane Fly’s current 169 rating is 6lbs below that 2013 peak but O’Brien points out it still makes the 11-year-old the highest rated hurdling performer this season.

“I don’t think anyone would argue he is quite as good as he was, but 169 is still the best mark we have seen this season. Both Jezki and Faugheen are on 168.

“Handicappers tend to look at things differently and Faugheen is a very exciting horse with huge potential. Faugheen is the cover, if you like, but Hurricane Fly has the form in the book and deserves a higher rating at this point in time.

“Faugheen beat a very high class handicapper in Purple Bay at Kempton at Christmas. Purple Bay ran off 153 in a Galway Hurdle last summer and got beaten seven and a half lengths by Thomas Edison. He is very talented. But I would take the view that Hurricane Fly beating the reigning Champion Hurdler, Jezki, is better form, at the moment,” O’Brien said.

Not ruled out

Willie Mullins hasn’t ruled out giving Faugheen the opportunity to extend his unbeaten record with a festival prep in this Saturday’s Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park.

However, the shortest-priced of his festival team remains the odds-on Arkle favourite Un De Sceaux and the handicap view appears to be that his opposition in four weeks’ time will face a mammoth task.

Un De Sceaux’s 15-length rout of Clarcam and Gilgamboa in last month’s Leopardstown Arkle has generated huge expectation around the freewheeling ex-French star and although no official handicap mark has been assigned to him yet, he looks set to be a figures stand out next month.

“I will be meeting my colleagues in Britain next week at an Anglo-Irish conference and I would be surprised if Un De Sceaux isn’t rated a minimum of 163. In most ordinary years that would be enough to win any of the novice chases at Cheltenham,” O’Brien said.

“Un De Sceaux looks a quintessential ‘could-be-anything’ horse. It’s very hard to look at it any other way after his performance at Leopardstown. It was just a three-horse race but he gave 10lbs to Clarcam, who’d beaten Vautour before that. Gilgamboa is a highly-regarded horse as well. And you have to remember Un De Sceaux could have been a Champion Hurdle contender last season.”

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