FOR three years, the same horse has had his name etched into the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle roll of honour. By Sunday evening, it should be four in a row for Hurricane Fly.
The young guns came to Foxrock on December 29 to put the sword to the then 17-time Grade One winner, but, despite the best efforts of Jezki and Our Conor, Hurricane Fly returned to Willie Mullins' Carlow base that evening as an 18-time Grade One winner.
Written off following an unimpressive win in the Morgiana at Punchestown in November and, owing to the fact that he was now rising 10, he was also continually knocked for beating the same horses time and time again in the Irish Grade One's. But Hurricane Fly answered all those who dared to doubt him with a pretty flawless success in the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas.
Despite their shortcomings last month, however, connections of both Jezki and Our Conor exited Leopardstown with reason to be confident of at least narrowing the gap – if not reversing the form – in Sunday's feature, which is a race that we are anticipating for three weeks at this stage.
The Jezki camp drew up tactics that surprised Ruby Walsh, who ran the race out in his head with six or seven different scenarios apart from the one that saw Captain Cee Bee make the running. Yet, despite the inconvenience, Hurricane Fly still had the better of Jessica Harrington's charge.
There is no doubt that Jezki would have been closer with a clearer run, but if he had mowed down the two-and-a-half length gap – and that is a big if – it remains to be seen if Hurricane Fly would have succumbed to the challenge. I personally doubt it.
Our Conor was a further three and a quarter lengths away, but the impressive Triumph Hurdle winner was entitled to blow up on the run-in, having not raced competitively in over two months.
Barry Connell's big money purchase still has a stone to find on official ratings with Hurricane Fly and, while it would be a surprise if that gap is not bridged slightly after Sunday, beating Hurricane Fly looks beyond him too at this juncture.
There is no shame in finishing within a few lengths of Hurricane Fly, though. Both Jezki and Our Conor, you would imagine, will sample the dizzy heights of Grade One success again in a career that only last year saw them fight their way in novice company. Hurricane Fly is 10, battled-hardened, a two-time English Champion Hurdle winner and arguably a horse of a generation. Just look at his record and tell me he doesn't deserve these column inches and such a billing. He most definitely does.
This is no ordinary two-mile hurdler we are raving about. This is a record-breaking two-mile hurdler, who, at the moment, is being compared to Istabraq, but in just over six weeks could quite easily be on a platform of his own. Who'd have thought that when Istabraq won Sunday's race for a fourth time in 2001?
The hardest thing to believe in all of this, though, is that we need to defend a horse of this calibre. Unlike Istabraq, Hurricane Fly has never really captured the public imagination, not even in Ireland, and it's hard to know why. If you need convincing, just make sure to be in Leopardstown on Sunday. See you at the number one spot.