Hurricane Fly to be steered at French Champion Hurdle
Return to Auteuil in June on the cards for the Grade 1 record-breaking superstar
Hurricane Fly and Paul Townsend with trainer Willie Mullins at Cheltenham last week. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Willie Mullins has long suspected the French Champion Hurdle could be a perfect fit for Hurricane Fly, so a return to Paris in June with the veteran superstar may yet provide a climax to the record-breaking trainer’s season.
Mullins has won the Grande Course de Haies d’Auteuil four times in the past, including back-to-back victories in 2011 and 2012 for Thousand Stars, and reckons now may be the time to take his world record Grade 1 scorer back to Auteuil, seven years after his last appearance there.
“I would like to go for the French Champion Hurdle with him and this looks like it could be the year to do it,” he said. “There is Punchestown for him as well. If he’s well in himself he could well take in both places.”
Hurricane Fly ran twice at Auteuil as a four-year-old for Mullins in the summer of 2008. Since then he has become a legend within Irish racing, including being a five-time winner of the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle and a two-time Cheltenham hero in 2011 and 2013.
Dawn Run famously won a Champion Hurdle Triple Crown in 1984 when winning at both Leopardstown and Cheltenham before going on to score at Auteuil.
‘The Fly’ completed Mullins’s Champion Hurdle 1-2-3 last week when the trainer’s eight Cheltenham winners set a new festival benchmark, including Faugheen leading home that Champion Hurdle clean-sweep.
Later that Easter week, the focus will switch to Liverpool where Champagne Fever could lead a Closutton team in the Grade 1 Melling Chase over two and a half miles. The grey was ruled out of last week’s Ryanair Chase having been bitten on the lip by another horse on the journey to Cheltenham.
Turban (Topham Chase) and Babylon Des Motte (Mares Bumper) are other Aintree possibles, but the primary festival focus for racing’s dominant personality will be resolutely on Punchestown, which starts in six weeks’ time.
Instead, the immediate post-Cheltenham focus in the Mullins camp has been on analysing what happened at the festival and trying, if possible, to improve even further on what was an unprecedented level of success.
“It was a wonderful week but if you don’t at least try to improve then you definitely can’t do so,” Mullins said. “
We’ve already been talking about what horses might be brought in terms of next season, and going through the ones who ran at Cheltenham this time.”
He added: “Basically I think if you believe a horse is good enough to go to Cheltenham then you bring them. We’ve gone through the 50-plus horses we did take and wondered if maybe we could have cut any from the list. And two of the last ones onto the lorry were probably Milsean (runner-up in the Albert Bartlett) and Killultagh Vic (winner of the Martin Pipe Hurdle).
“Now it’s a case of recovery and recuperation and getting ready for the rest of the big meetings this season. The tough job of getting them hard fit for Cheltenham is done, so it’s mainly a case of keeping them ticking over for Fairyhouse, Aintree and Punchestown.”
Some bookmakers are also already looking ahead to next year’s Cheltenham and Paddy Power has cut its price about Mullins winning all four festival feature races in 2016 to just 16-1.
The Irish trainer currently has the leading novices Vautour and Don Poli for the Gold Cup, the Arkle hero Un De Sceaux tops the betting for next season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase, while Faugheen is a clear favourite to retain his Champion Hurdle crown.
Annie Power, whose final flight OLBG fall last week had bookmakers thanking their lucky stars that all four Mullins day one hotpots didn’t win, is also favourite in some lists for the 2016 World Hurdle.
“This special has been very popular and punters have decided 20-1 was just too generous,” Paddy Power reported.