France could be next stop for fantastic Fly
HURRICANE Fly could be in line for a return to his native France in early summer after his stunning Cheltenham comeback in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
The 2011 winner had only managed to finish third in the two-mile showpiece last year but trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh had long believed he had returned to the horse of old.
The 13-8 favourite needed to be bustled along at half-way but eventually powered to a two-and-a-half-length success over title-holder Rock On Ruby.
Rock On Ruby and Noel Fehily had opted to set a punishing gallop with no other obvious leader and he maintained it with admirable ferocity.
But Walsh had been among those to have perhaps dismissed his claims a year earlier and the field were anxious not to allow the champion to get away from them.
Suddenly, though, Hurricane Fly had overcome his flat patch and was cruising on Rock On Ruby's flanks, with man-of-the-moment Walsh driving him up the final hill to repeat Comedy Of Errors' historic feat of 1975 as only the second horse to regain the crown.
"I thought he looked very strong when he came back for the year and I just hoped that if he could do what he had been doing on the track and what he had been doing at home, it would be enough for me," said Mullins.
"We'll be back to Punchestown but I've been looking at the French Champion Hurdle as well.
"It's three miles and one, but I think he'll stay it."
Walsh said: "I can't say I was overly confident - from the word 'go' he didn't travel as well as he can.
"He made a mistake or two, but he's as tough as nails.
"I was in front a good two furlongs too soon. He pinged the last and I'm glad he got it back to show everyone he's a true champion hurdler."
It was so near but yet so far for Rock On Ruby, who won a year ago when Harry Fry was officially training him from Paul Nicholls' satellite yard, but now oversees the horse under his own steam.
"We've gone out there and served it up to them and just been beaten by a true champion and a better horse on the day," said Fry.
"We'll see about possibly going chasing next year, we'll see what the owners want to do."
Countrywide Flame far outran his 16-1 odds to be third, while Zarkandar, the 7-2 second-favourite, weakened into fourth.