Tuesday 6 January 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015: Can Hurricane Fly Win The Champion Hurdle For A Third Time?

Hurricane Fly demonstrated there is still plenty of life in the old horse yet when beating Jezki in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown on Monday.
The big question now is whether the Willie Mullins-trained horse can create history by regaining the Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham for a second time.
The son of Montjeu won the Champion Hurdle for the first time back in 2011 and, after finishing third to Rock On Ruby 12 months later, he turned the tables to win the race for a second time in 2013.
Last season saw Hurricane Fly finish fourth to Jezki before being beaten by the same horse at the Punchestown Festival. 
The back-to-back defeats led to concerns that Hurricane Fly’s best days were behind him, but he has returned this season in fine form.
He beat Jezki at Punchestown first time up before extending his unbeaten record at Leopardstown to nine races with his battling success over the same rival on Monday.
It was a record-breaking 21st Grade One triumph for Hurricane Fly, who will be 11 when he heads to Cheltenham Festival 2015 in March where his Christmas Hurdle-winning stablemate Faugheen will be in opposition.
Only two horses have previously won the Champion Hurdle at that age – Hatton’s Grace in 1951 and Sea Pigeon 30 years later.
His odds for the race were not significantly affected by his win in the Ryanair Hurdle and he remains the fourth favourite for the Champion Hurdle at around 12/1.
But Mullins certainly appears confident that Hurricane Fly retains the same zest which has brought 23 wins from 28 hurdle starts.
"It’s getting to the point with him now where I just let him do the talking," said Mullins the day after the Ryanair Hurdle win. "He’s just a fantastic horse with fantastic ability.
"He’s just a horse with huge ability but also with a tremendous amount of guts."
Hurricane Fly displayed his ability and guts to prevail against Jezki at Leopardstown, but there are two bigger dangers looming come the spring at Cheltenham – Faugheen and The New One.
Unbeaten stablemate Faugheen is the ante-post favourite for the Champion Hurdle
Mullins, though, still rates Hurricane Fly as his No.1, saying: "To me, he's our top Champion Hurdle horse - he has the ratings. Faugheen looks the one coming up, but Hurricane Fly's doing it.
"I think he's the best anyone has ever trained over jumps. I'll never have another horse like him. He's unique."
Faugheen has been extremely impressive so far this season and jockey Ruby Walsh will have an envious decision to make over who to ride at Cheltenham.
It is possible that could affect Hurricane Fly’s chances of success given Walsh’s strong affiliation with the horse.
The last time someone other than Walsh was aboard Hurricane Fly was back in January 2011 when Paul Townend was in the saddle to win the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Meanwhile, The New One is the best home hope to win the Champion Hurdle after finishing an unlucky third last season after being hampered early on in the race.
He flew past Hurricane Fly up the hill in 2014 and certainly looks primed to play a major role in this season’s renewal.
Mullins felt Hurricane Fly got tired that day and it has to be a concern that the same thing will happen again now that he is a year older.
Yet the spirit and ability remain intact and, if he is there at the last flight, then it would take some horse to outbattle him.

It would also be a wonderful story if Hurricane Fly can make history at Cheltenham Festival 2015.