Fly shines bright in Mullins four-star show
Hurricane Fly defied a blizzard of sleet and snow to secure a third successive BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle in imperious style at Leopardstown. With Nicky Henderson having opted to give JP McManus' Binocular his seasonal debut in the €110,000 two-miler, the clash of two former holders of the equivalent English crown added a bit of spice to the preamble. However, the market spoke volumes on the day, as Hurricane Fly returned an SP of 1/6 and Binocular drifted out to 11/2.
Sure enough, the raider never remotely threatened to thwart the George Creighton-owned nine-year-old's bid for a 14th Grade One. Indeed, the stewards felt compelled to have a look into AP McCoy's ride on Binocular, though they concluded the perennial British champion – who was at his forceful best in getting the well-backed Competitive Edge (10/3fav) up by a head for McManus and Conor O'Dwyer in the concluding handicap chase – had obtained the best possible position.
Binocular kept on late, failing to pass the winner's game stablemate Thousand Stars by just a nose. The pair were five lengths adrift of Hurricane Fly and the motionless Ruby Walsh, but posed less of a threat to the classy winner than the stormy weather.
When Walsh gave the 2011 Cheltenham hero his head on the final turn, he swallowed Thousand Stars whole. He pinged the last and sauntered to the line, prompting bookmakers to cut him to 5/2 favourite from 7/2 to regain his crown in March.
It was an emphatic performance that added further weight to the champion trainer's repeated assertion that Hurricane Fly (pictured) has all of his old swagger back. "Ruby said he was as good as he ever felt him," a delighted Mullins said afterwards.
"He is in fantastic form. He just wasn't right last season and we could never put our finger on it. It's hard to see a nine-year-old improving, but if I can keep him in that form for the next six or seven weeks, I'd be happy with that going to Cheltenham. The conditions here are terrible, but when Ruby gave him a squeeze coming off the home bend, he took off as though he had just joined in."
Mullins' French recruit Pont Alexandre now heads the market for the Neptune Investment Novices' Hurdle at 4/1 after a similarly authoritative front-running triumph in the Grade Two Synergy Security Solutions Novice Hurdle.
The oversized five-year-old made a big impression when scoring in Grade One company on his debut for the stable at Navan, and this 11-length rout of Sizing Gold enhanced his reputation once again.
Asked if the Walsh-ridden 4/7 shot was among the best novice hurdlers he has trained, the all-conquering Mullins, who ended up with a 34/1 four-timer on the day, replied: "Apart from Hurricane Fly, I would say so."
"It was a huge performance to make all in that ground and in that weather," he added.
"He just destroyed them. I'm looking forward to Cheltenham with him, but what I'm really looking forward to is sending him over fences next season."
Walsh got to within three of Davy Russell at the head of the riders' table when again dictating the fractions successfully on Mullins' Rupert Lamb in the beginners' chase, though he was on the wrong one in the earlier mares' novice hurdle. The odds-on Zuzka could manage only third behind Glens Melody (9/2) and Paul Townend in that.
The maiden hurdle saw another Closutton favourite turned over, with Urano done for speed on the run to the line by the Jim Culloty-trained Legal Exit. A faller when still in contention on his hurdles bow at Thurles, Barry Geraghty's mount made amends in style by four lengths.
"I've always thought the world of him," Culloty said of the 12/1 shot. "I won't aim too high with him this year as he is really a chaser for next season."
Tony Martin's Blackmail, runner-up on his first two starts, earned quotes of 25/1 for the Champion Bumper after readily justified 6/4 favouritism under Robbie McNamara. "I'll have a chat with John (Breslin, owner) but I think he is plenty good enough to run at Cheltenham," Martin reported after the Black Sam Bellamy gelding made light of the heavy going to cruise three lengths clear of Mullins' Sizing Chile.