RUBY WALSH expects Hurricane Fly to make great strides following his seasonal return in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
The dual Champion Hurdle hero secured a record 17th Grade One triumph last Sunday, but was not as impressive as many anticipated in beating stable companion Marito by little over a length.
"Hurricane Fly gave me a good feel. Paul Townend, who rides him at home, thought he was as unready as he has ever been," said Walsh.
"He came in that much stronger as it was a good summer, so we were struggling to get him really fit.
"He was a bit rusty, he didn't jump as well as he can early on but he put in a tremendous jump at the last.
"We knew they would give him a race – we never thought they would beat him though, and he'll come on a lot."
Walsh respects Hurricane Fly's potential Champion Hurdle rivals, particularly The New One and My Tent Or Yours.
"You would have to be impressed by the progress The New One has been making. He was an OK jumper last year, and there is no shame in getting beaten by At Fishers Cross at Cheltenham over a trip in January," said the jockey.
"For a novice to run an experienced horse like Zarkandar close at Aintree on his final start of the season was a terrific run and Kempton last month was a particularly spectacular starting point.
"I've always been a My Tent Or Yours fan and he'd be a huge force in the Champion Hurdle if he could learn to settle – he's the one we all have to beat if he does.
"He was a runaway winner of the Betfair Hurdle and although Champagne Fever touched him off in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, I think Champagne Fever is a hell of a good horse."
Walsh rode eight winners during last weekend's two-day Punchestown meeting and reserved special praise for Champagne Fever, who made a winning debut over fences, and Faugheen, who struck on his hurdling bow.
Walsh said: "I was very impressed with Champagne. Rogue Angel kept me honest.
"We went a really good gallop and he kept taking me on.
"I loved the way Champagne Fever went about his business. Even when he made a mistake, or got a fence wrong, he went to the next one and attacked it.
"He loves what he is doing, he has a huge cruising speed, is a long-striding horse and would be better going left-handed.
"He is a horse I like a lot and I have a soft spot for him, but of all my mounts over the weekend, Faugheen was the most impressive.
"For a horse having his first run over hurdles, he was quite keen and I only got him settled when I was turning in but I was very impressed with the way he did it."