As Hurricane Fly and Ruby Walsh ranged up to reigning champion hurdler Jezki and cruised by to claim his 20th Grade 1 success, we were given a reminder of the unhinged joy that jump racing gives to its fans, writes Stephen Loftus.
Jump racing followers will always contend that their form of racing will always reign supreme over flat racing and until Sunday, I did not believe them.
This writer always thought that racing could never get any better than Sea the Stars and Frankel destroying every race across Europe but the magic of Sunday’s Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown brought back incredible memories and reminds one of the relationship that we all share with the greats of the jumps. No other sport could provide the unbridled joy and emotional scenes that were observed at the Kildare track on Sunday.
This writer has been fortunate enough to witness every one of Hurricane Fly’s 20 Grade One triumphs but has also seen other true greats such as Denman, Kauto Star, Best Mate and Istabraq, and the scenes their victories brought about.
Perhaps it is the longevity of hurdlers and chasers that spark attachments to different horses or the sheer excitement of seeing the true heroes of the jumps world fight it out down the hill at Cheltenham, but it is for certain that jump racing is able to provide us fans with unmatched euphoria.
Ruby Walsh has formed many memorable partnerships over the years but none have had the same feel as that with the Willie Mullins trained Hurricane Fly. After winning the two Champion Hurdles at Cheltenham, Hurricane Fly had a disappointing season last year, though he did have a memorable victory over the ill-fated Our Conor.
“The Fly” was headed by Our Conor over the last hurdle but battled back showing his steely determination to complete an incredible victory. This victory sparked an unseen before event, when Willie Mullins ordered Hurricane Fly’s handler to bring him to the crowd to be patted down.
This scene highlighted the relationship a horse can have with racegoers, especially a horse of his magnitude. What other sport would see the main attraction greet the fans and spark such incredible moments?
For all his past victories, Hurricane Fly was written off this year after he failed to reclaim his Champion hurdle crown last year. Rumours of his fitness and wellbeing being compromised were proved incorrect on Sunday when he overturned Jezki at Punchestown and reaffirmed his status as the top hurdler in Ireland.
Ruby Walsh clenched his fists and the crowd saluted a true champion, in the way that is reserved for “the Fly”. Any further victories would only add to his legendary status among the racing greats. Whatever happens, Hurricane Fly has contributed to bringing numerous new followers to the game and the attachment that the public has formed with him will be forever remembered.
Stephen Loftus, Pundit Arena
Featured image by jeff collins [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons