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All Roads Lead to Cheltenham for Magnificent Fly

Hurricane Fly further enhanced his already phenomenal record on Sunday, where his gutsy performance landed him his fourth successive Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, writes Michael Dorgan.

Following last week’s late scare where trainer Willie Mullins revealed the Champion Hurdler had suffered from a bruised foot and had worked “the worst he has ever worked”, the 10-year-old showed no ill effects to secure his 19th Grade 1 win.

On course talk before the off was all about tactics and how the young pretenders Our Conor, ridden by Danny Mullins and Jezki, ridden by all-time leading jumps jockey Tony McCoy, would make up the requisite lengths needed from they’re defeat here by Ruby Walsh’s mount over the Christmas period in the Ryanair Hurdle.

As expected the 13 year old veteran Captain Cee Bee led the field at a steady gallop and turning round the last bend the race began to unfold as the three began to claw back Captain Cee Bee to set up a sprint finish. Mullins sat tight on Our Conor while McCoy and Jezki found themselves at the back of the pack this time round after being caught in a pocket at the same stage last time out.

Coming to the last hurdle it was all to play for but then, uncharacteristically, Hurricane Fly fluffed the last it and his title seemed all but lost with Our Conor looking the sure winner. However, the mistake only seemed to spur the champion on and when he came eye to eye with Our Conor, the 4/7 favourite showed his true championship credentials to dig deep and pull clear of Our Conor to secure the win (a tad cosily in the end it could be said) to a rapturous roar from the Leopardstown crowd.

“I thought we were in trouble when he missed the last, but when he got his head in front again, I knew he wouldn’t be beaten”, exclaimed jockey Ruby Walsh after the race.

“He has stamina, pace, jumps and will battle when you want him. It was a good performance and I hope there is enough in the tank for March. We’ve been proud of him a long time; he deserved the reception he got today” and Walsh admitted he couldn’t ever remember such a reception at Leopardstown before.

“Today was the first time he has missed the last hurdle and I thought was beaten. But he had the guts to fight back and that was extraordinary”, said a relieved but delighted trainer Willie Mullins after.

“I have huge respect for the horse, after the bit of work I saw him doing during the week”, he said. “If it was an ordinary race, with an ordinary horse, he wouldn’t have run. I would love to have waited another week, but the race was this weekend.

“He bit Paul (Townend) this morning, so that was a good sign. But we did every test with him and I was worried”. Mullins was full of praise for Walsh who went on to complete a 4 timer on the card, “Ruby is a master tactician. I thought Hurricane Fly was the best horse I have ever trained coming here and this proves it.”

Our Conor lost nothing in defeat and had improved markedly on his last performance, just as connections had predicted. Last year’s Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle winner is set for a bright future and will undoubtedly be in the thick of things come March but Jezki, who finished last of the four, disappointed and some were pondering the hold-up tactics employed by McCoy.

Hurricane Fly was trimmed to 5/2 favourite with some firms for the Champion Hurdle along with Our Conor best priced 6/1.

Captain Cee Bees close third will nevertheless raise questions as to the quality of the form leading into the Champion Hurdle in six weeks’ time with English challengers The New One and My Tent Our Yours the main challengers to Hurricane Fly according to the market. However, as Ruby Walsh says “winning ugly is still winning” and Hurricane Fly is still the one they all have to beat.

For now we can only savour last Sundays performance and look forward in anticipation to seeing the “Champion of Champions” as he was declared in Leopardstown last Sunday, defend the big one at Cheltenham on the 11th of March.

Hurricane Fly further enhanced his already phenomenal record on Sunday, where his gutsy performance landed him his fourth successive BHP Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown. Following last week’s late scare where trainer Willie Mullins revealed the Champion Hurdler had suffered from a bruised foot and had worked “the worst he has ever worked”, the 10-year-old showed no ill effects to secure his 19th Grade 1 win.

On course talk before the off was all about tactics and how the young pretenders Our Conor, ridden by Danny Mullins and Jezki, ridden by all-time leading jumps jockey Tony McCoy, would make up the requisite lengths needed from they’re defeat here by Ruby Walsh’s mount over the Christmas period in the Ryanair Hurdle.

As expected the 13 year old veteran Captain Cee Bee led the field at a steady gallop and turning round the last bend the race began to unfold as the three began to claw back Captain Cee Bee to set up a sprint finish. Mullins sat tight on Our Conor while McCoy and Jezki found themselves at the back of the pack this time round after being caught in a pocket at the same stage last time out.

Coming to the last hurdle it was all to play for but then, uncharacteristically, Hurricane Fly fluffed the last it and his title seemed all but lost with Our Conor looking the sure winner. However, the mistake only seemed to spur the champion on and when he came eye to eye with Our Conor, the 4/7 favourite showed his true championship credentials to dig deep and pull clear of Our Conor to secure the win (a tad cosily in the end it could be said) to a rapturous roar from the Leopardstown crowd.

“I thought we were in trouble when he missed the last, but when he got his head in front again, I knew he wouldn’t be beaten”, exclaimed jockey Ruby Walsh after the race.

“He has stamina, pace, jumps and will battle when you want him. It was a good performance and I hope there is enough in the tank for March. We’ve been proud of him a long time; he deserved the reception he got today” and Walsh admitted he couldn’t ever remember such a reception at Leopardstown before.

“Today was the first time he has missed the last hurdle and I thought was beaten. But he had the guts to fight back and that was extraordinary”, said a relieved but delighted trainer Willie Mullins after.

“I have huge respect for the horse, after the bit of work I saw him doing during the week”, he said. “If it was an ordinary race, with an ordinary horse, he wouldn’t have run. I would love to have waited another week, but the race was this weekend.

“He bit Paul (Townend) this morning, so that was a good sign. But we did every test with him and I was worried”. Mullins was full of praise for Walsh who went on to complete a 4 timer on the card, “Ruby is a master tactician. I thought Hurricane Fly was the best horse I have ever trained coming here and this proves it.”

Our Conor lost nothing in defeat and had improved markedly on his last performance, just as connections had predicted. Last year’s Cheltenham Triumph Hurdle winner is set for a bright future and will undoubtedly be in the thick of things come March but Jezki, who finished last of the four, disappointed and some were pondering the hold-up tactics employed by McCoy.

Hurricane Fly was trimmed to 5/2 favourite with some firms for the Champion Hurdle along with Our Conor best priced 6/1.

Captain Cee Bees close third will nevertheless raise questions as to the quality of the form leading into the Champion Hurdle in six weeks’ time with English challengers The New One and My Tent Our Yours the main challengers to Hurricane Fly according to the market. However, as Ruby Walsh says “winning ugly is still winning” and Hurricane Fly is still the one they all have to beat.

For now we can only savour last Sundays performance and look forward in anticipation to seeing the “Champion of Champions” as he was declared in Leopardstown last Sunday, defend the big one at Cheltenham on the 11th of March.

Pundit Arena, Michael Dorgan.