Mullins delighted with Hurricane Fly
Ahead of crucial prep runs for Hurricane Fly's two closest rivals in the Stan James Champion Hurdle ante-post market, Willie Mullins has issued a particularly upbeat bulletin on his title-holder's well-being.
Paul Nicholls' Zarkandar, third favourite for the Cheltenham showpiece at 15/2, is on duty at Newbury today, and Nicky Henderson's Grandouet (7/1) gets the opportunity to strut his stuff at Wincanton tomorrow, but Hurricane Fly's devastating performance in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month was a reminder of just how rare a talent Mullins' charge really is.
And while he took time to come to hand this term, the eight-year-old has done nothing but please the champion trainer since his seasonal reappearance.
"He's in great form, and is just doing a little light work, but no strong canters," Mullins reported yesterday of Hurricane Fly, which is as short as 4/6 to retain his crown. "There is no stiffness or soreness at all. We couldn't be happier with him."
Having commented in the aftermath of his Leopardstown rout how relaxed Hurricane Fly had been, Mullins again expressed his satisfaction with the previously highly strung son of Montjeu. And he added that he expects the George Creighton-owned star to be even more potent come March 13.
"He seems a different type of horse this year, a lot more settled," said Mullins, who runs Final Approach in today's Betfair Hurdle and Some Target in tomorrow's Grand National trial at Haydock.
"Normally it takes two people to lead him around the parade ring, but he was very quiet at Leopardstown. The handicapper felt that he was right up to his best there and, with normal improvement, I'm hoping he could be even better at Cheltenham."
Paul Flynn is another man hoping for an improved showing at Prestbury Park, though his Galway Hurdle hero Moon Dice will have to find a bit more after a slightly tame effort when fifth behind Unaccompanied in the Istabraq Hurdle at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Flynn's seven-year-old, a 20/1 shot for the Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle, had previously endured a nightmare passage when fourth in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham in November.
"He was sick at Christmas but is in good form now," Longford-based Flynn revealed, "and the County Hurdle is the plan."