Hurricane 'fine' after romp
The morning after is often the worst time for a trainer, particularly one of a horse which has had problems in the past.
So Willie Mullins was particularly pleased to report his champion two-mile hurdler Hurricane Fly none the worse overnight for his faultless seasonal comeback at Leopardstown.
According to Ireland's champion trainer, his stable star was bright-eyed and cool-legged after his first race for nearly eight months on Sunday.
The fragile gelding's clinical, wide-margin defeat of some smart rivals in the Irish Champion Hurdle, his 10th Grade One victory, left him odds-on in most lists for a successful defence of his Cheltenham title six weeks today.
"He's fine this morning," Mullins said yesterday, "which is great news. I hope he can improve for his run but if I can get him to Cheltenham in the same sort of form I'd be happy enough."
A day on from Hurricane Fly's six-and-a-half-length romp away from Oscars Well, the man in the saddle, Ruby Walsh, was trying to remain measured in his analysis of what he had felt from the eight-year-old.
"He was very impressive," Walsh said. "But I was surprised he won by so far. Oscars Well ran a really good race but maybe Thousand Stars (third) didn't run as good as he can, and obviously Unaccompanied (fourth) didn't fire.
"But he settled beautifully and jumped really well in a true-run race. It was an especially good jump at the second-last, when he jumped past Thousand Stars and joined Oscars Well. He came alive and the race was over."
The heavy conditions at Leopardstown were blamed for the below-par showing of Unaccompanied, which started second favourite on the strength of her defeat of Thousand Stars, and a decision has yet been made about her Champion Hurdle participation.
"I think the ground got to her," said Stan Cosgrove, racing manager for her owners, Moyglare Stud. "She's only a five-year-old and it was hard work."
Meanwhile, Walsh's appeal against the three-day ban he received for careless riding at Cheltenham on Saturday will be heard by the British Horseracing Authority on Thursday.
Walsh picked up what could prove a costly ban when Pearl Swan, his mount in the Triumph Hurdle Trial, bumped and then leant on the short-head runner-up Grumeti on the run-in. The stewards maintained Walsh reacted too late, pulling his whip through to his right hand when the damage had been done.
Unless the suspension is overturned, he will miss the most important Cheltenham trials weekend between now and the Festival, when he would normally have a strong book of rides at both Newbury (February 11) and Leopardstown's Hennessy meeting a day later.
"You're never optimistic of getting these things turned over," he said yesterday, "but I didn't think it warranted three days. It was minimal interference and a very minimal offence."
Today the jockey flies over for Taunton where, among others, he will team up with Paul Nicholls' latest Triumph Hurdle prospect, Dildar, which makes his hurdling debut in the Royal Marines Novice Hurdle. He faces 13 rivals and is the only juvenile in the contest.
Yesterday the gelding, which finished five lengths behind subsequent Derby winner Pour Moi in the Group Two Prix Greffulhe, was cut from 16/1 to 12/1 for the Triumph.
"He has quite smart Flat form and has done everything right at home," said Nicholls. "His work has been very favourable with Pearl Swan. We've given him plenty of time since we got him in the spring and had him gelded.
"We like what we see. But I've seen it a million times with horses off the Flat: you never quite know until you put eight flights of hurdles in front of them." (© Independent News Service)