Irish Champion on radar as Fly shines
Hurricane Fly is on schedule for a return to action in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on January 29 after Willie Mullins expressed himself "absolutely delighted" with the hurdling kingpin following a racecourse gallop at the Foxrock venue yesterday.
Without a run since recording his sixth successive Grade One triumph at Punchestown in May, the exceptional eight-year-old missed the Istabraq Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29 after Mullins reported that he wasn't happy that the horse was ready to do itself justice.
Having swerved the Morgiana Hurdle for similar reasons in November, the Champion Hurdle favourite had eased from odds of 13/8 to a top-priced 5/2 to retain his Cheltenham crown in March amid concerns about his prolonged absence.
However, 9/4 was the best that could be had about Hurricane Fly yesterday evening, as the champion trainer issued an upbeat bulletin that appeared to suggest that the Montjeu gelding had finally turned a corner.
"Everything went well," Mullins revealed after his stable star completed the gallop under his nephew Emmet. "It was more than a little workout -- it was a good piece of work.
"I sent three others to gallop with him, and he was ridden by Emmet; he and Paul (Townend) ride Hurricane Fly in all his homework, but I've given Paul a few days off this week.
"Emmet settled him in behind and he cruised up to the others. When he gave him a squeeze, he shot clear. I was absolutely delighted with him, it was just what we wanted to see. We're working towards the Irish Champion Hurdle with him, and hopefully we'll get there."
The two-mile champion chaser Sizing Europe was also the subject of a positive update. So impressive on reverting to his preferred trip in the Tingle Creek at Sandown last month, the Henry de Bromhead-trained 10-year-old is due to have its final prep race for the Queen Mother Champion Chase in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown on February 5.
"He's in good form," Waterford-based De Bromhead confirmed yesterday of the 2010 Irish Independent Arkle Trophy victor. "We backed off him after Sandown to give him a break over Christmas. We're starting to build him up again now, and we're aiming towards the Tied Cottage. All going well there, he'll be going back to Cheltenham for the Champion Chase."
Third in the Punchestown Grade Two behind the ill-fated Golden Silver in 2011 before going on to glory at Cheltenham, Sizing Europe could be joined in the line-up by Big Zeb.
Colm Murphy's 2010 champion, second at Cheltenham last year, turned the tables on Sizing Europe at Punchestown in May and recorded a third win on the spin in the Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown last week.
Despite turning 11 last Sunday, Big Zeb remains a real contender, so a showdown with Sizing Europe next month would be an event to savour all on its own.