Hurricane Fly on target for €100,000 Ryanair renewal

Defending champion boasts 100% strike rate from six starts

Hurricane Fly: May take on Our Conor and Jezki. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Hurricane Fly: May take on Our Conor and Jezki. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho


Hurricane Fly’s attempt to successfully defend a perfect track record is set to be one of the highlights of this week’s Christmas action and Leopardstown officials hope the Willie Mullins trained superstar can even help them reach the

60,000 festival attendance mark for the first time in six years.

Mullins has confirmed Hurricane Fly is on target for Sunday’s €100,000 Ryanair Hurdle and a possible mouth-watering clash with Our Conor and Jezki. It will be the horse’s seventh race at Leopardstown and he boasts a 100 per cent strike rate from six starts, including winning at the Christmas festivals of 2008, 2010 and last year beat Unaccompanied by seven lengths.

However the final-day festival date has been something of a poor relation in terms of crowd figures, something Leopardstown’s authorities aim to address this year with a star-studded feature race, and switch of the €75,000 Grade One Topaz Novice Chase.

‘Extremely encouraging’
Track manager Pat Keogh believes the potential benefits could

mean Leopardstown reaches the targeted attendance mark for the first time since 2007. He said yesterday that the festival has a balance it may not have had before.

“As of now we’re looking at crowds over the four days of in excess of 50,000 and bookings have been extremely encouraging, so much so we might even get close to 60,000.

“Each day has its own flavour. St Stephen’s Day has a young crowd coming while Paddy Power day has its own distinct atmosphere. Saturday’s Lexus day is for aficionados and this year I think the fourth day balances things up better.

“Normally we have over 8,000 for Day Four but this year we might have eleven-and-a-half. Paddy Power day and Lexus day are usually the best attended days, at around 16,000. And St Stephen’s Day is a tradition for many people so at this stage it all looks good,” said Keogh.

The ground at Leopardstown yesterday was officially “yielding” and soft in places on the hurdles track but Keogh played down any potential impact of forecast colder temperatures later in the week.

“Temperatures are forecast to get down around freezing but we have plenty of grass cover and we have no concerns at this stage” he said.

Much of the Christmas action will revolve around the all-powerful Willie Mullins string with odds even available on the champion trainer winning all seven Grade One races up for grabs over the holidays.

The first of those is Thursday’s Racing Post Novice Chase in which Champagne Fever is a long odds-on ante-post favourite.

Mighty Mullins
Mullins said

he will wait until today’s declaration stage for the St Stephen’s Day action before finalising Christmas running plans for many of his star performers but reported: “At this stage both Champagne Fever and Felix Yonger are likely to run in the big novice chase.”

Arvika Ligeonniere remains favourite for Friday’s Dial-A-Bet Chase while Ballycasey heads Morning Assembly in early betting for the Topaz Novice Chase over three miles.

Mullins’s big-race influence could also range across the Irish Sea. Vesper Bell and On His Own remain in contention to run in Saturday’s Coral Welsh Grand National, a race in which Jim Dreaper’s Goonyella remains an 8 to 1 market leader. Dreaper became the only Irish trainer to win the Welsh marathon in 2008 when Notre Pere was successful.

A big threat to Irish hopes at Chepstow looks like coming from Jonjo O’Neill’s yard but the trainer is wary of very soft ground for Alfie Sherrin.

Merry King is a general 14 to 1 shot for the Welsh National following his fifth in the Hennessy in November and O’Neill said: “Merry King will run, but I’m not sure about Alfie Sherrin as he doesn’t want it too soft.”

Another O’Neill entry is Storm Survivor but he ran sixth to Houblon Des Obeaux at Ascot only last Saturday.