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Five-star Hurricane Fly is still on a high

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Ruby Walsh and Hurricane Fly

Ruby Walsh and Hurricane Fly

Ruby Walsh and Hurricane Fly

Hurricane Fly confirmed himself as one of Ireland's sporting greats at Leopardstown yesterday afternoon as he again defied what even those closest to him thought was imaginable last May and won a record fifth BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

When Hurricane Fly had to give best to Jezki at both Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals last season, it looked like we had witnessed a changing of the guard in the hurdling ranks, but Hurricane Fly missed that memo when on his summer holidays and came back to action at Punchestown in November doing what he does better than any other racehorse. Winning Grade Ones.

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Yesterday was a 22nd win at the top level for the legendary 11-year-old, a tenth triumph around Leopardstown, a fifth Irish Champion Hurdle, and it created a welcoming reception in the parade ring, bettered only by Danoli, if bettered at all.

Hurricane Fly was a drifter in the betting before the race, those who refused to let their heart rule their head were coming around to the idea that Jezki was getting closer with each run this season and with the ground drying out to be more in his favour, this was when Jezki would reassert himself or maybe even Arctic Fire would spoil the party.

Anyone who backed against 'The Fly' were looking fairly smug as jockey Ruby Walsh sent out distress signals earlier than ideal but it would be just foolish to forget how tough Hurricane Fly is.

Approaching the last it was like the Christmas battle all over again. Jezki leading, Hurricane Fly chasing menacingly and Arctic Fire well and truly in contention.

Unlike Christmas, Jezki made a mistake at the last hurdle but connections of the reigning Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winner weren't even trying to suggest that a good jump at the last would have won them the race. It was, yet again, Hurricane Fly's day.

Jezki's trainer, Jessica Harrington, afterwards congratulated her counterpart Willie Mullins, and said: "He's unbeatable around here that's for sure." And so he is.

Mullins admitted to being worried when the field were in the back-straight and his horse of a lifetime was seemingly not enjoying proceedings.

"He did it the hard way today. They made it a real staying race," the winning trainer reflected.

"But when they were coming to the last you could put your life on him getting a good jump as he always does and when the other horse made the mistake it was all over."

Mullins continued: "He is unbelievable. It's incredible for a horse at his age and we are just enjoying days like this now. One man said to me coming down from the stand 'Are you sure he's not five?' because he just keeps pulling it out."

With Faugheen comfortably at home in his Closutton residence, still heading up the Champion Hurdle betting, the debate will go on all the way to the Cheltenham as to what Ruby Walsh will ride in Tuesday's feature but, unsurprisingly, a decision will not be made until much closer to the time.

Hurricane Fly is now 8/1 from 12/1 with Boylesports for the Champion Hurdle, but whatever happens there, the reception he got on his return to the winners' enclosure yesterday was Cheltenham-esque.

The 8,216 that were in attendance are sure to never forget it.


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