Hurricane Fly Champion Hurdle

Hurricane Fly Champion Hurdle

Records smashed as the mighty Fly brings the house down at Leopardstown

With Cheltenham slowly peaking over the horizon all roads clearly lead to Prestbury Park and by definition, that leaves some of the daily racing falling a little short of the expected standard – even at weekends.

Luckily, Leopardstown decided to buck that trend by putting on the Irish Champion Hurdle, a true championship contest over the obligatory two miles and with eight hurdles to negotiate, bringing the ultimate combination of hurdling skills and speed to the fore. Only six horses lined up despite plentiful prize money (whoever finished last was still guaranteed close to £1.000), but it may well have been the presence of two Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winners in the small field that put prospective runners off.  Jezki is the proud holder of the title at present having won the 2014 renewal by a neck from Nicky Henderson’s My Tent Or Yours, and with Hurricane Fly from the Willie Mullin yard five lengths back in fourth. In theory, that meant only the one winner here, but horses are not machines and form changes from month to month, year to year, track to track, and race to race, and with a record of nine starts and nine wins at the track, Hurricane Fly was sent off the 11/10 favourite on the day, having drifted from odds on overnight, which was a surprise to most (and as it turns out, a bonus for his supporters).

As the race started, Plinth (who was presumably the pacemaker for Jezki), was a reluctant front runner, being rousted along from flag fall and joined before half way by his stablemate as jockey A P McCoy presumably decided they were not going quickly enough. What effect that had at the end of the race is open to question, but a mistake by Jezki at the last put paid to any chance he had of victory, as Hurricane Fly went on to score by three and a half lengths from stablemate Arctic Fire with the reigning champ a disappointing third at odds of 5/4, and a further four lengths adrift.

On the positive side, this was Hurricane Fly’s twenty-second Grade One victory which is some record and marks him down as the true great many of us have believed for some time, but then what does this really say about his chances of regaining the Cheltenham crown he won in both 2011 and 2013 (so maybe he only tries his best every other year?).  The time here was pretty slow but not the slowest so nothing bad to read in to the result there, while the fact that Ruby Walsh was pretty animated in the saddle earlier in the race than his fans would like can be put down to the early crawl that saw his speedier rivals quicken up nicely, while at the age of eleven he needs a bit longer to wind himself up to full speed. It does seem fair and honest to say that this was not his greatest performance, but then this may well have been his preferred target with stable companion Faugheen favourite for the Champion, though on softer ground (which he seems to need these days), he could yet pull off a surprise come March? As for Jezki, he is another who may be better suited to the track at Cheltenham than he was here, and there is every chance that trainer Jessica Harrington have left that little bit more to work with as he looks to defend his title  – the truth is we won’t really know until March the 10th, can’t wait!

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