Willie Mullins bullish over Hurricane Fly and Quevega chances
WILLIE Mullins could not be happier with Hurricane Fly and Quevega as his stable stars bid to give Ireland the perfect start to Cheltenham 2013 tomorrow.
A winner of no less than 14 Grade One prizes, Hurricane Fly is one of the most prolific two-mile hurdlers of the last decade.
However, he arguably returns to Prestbury Park with something to prove, having suffered a shock odds-on reverse when only third 12 months ago behind the reopposing Rock On Ruby in the Champion Hurdle.
Although he has looked as good as ever in winning each of his three starts this season, most recently securing a third victory in January's Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, many bookmakers have been keen to take on the deposed champion.
While Mullins is never the most outwardly confident of trainers, he appeared in relaxed mood on the eve of the showpiece meeting.
Mullins said: "He travelled well, he's in great form and I'm happy with conditions.
"I haven't even looked at the declarations. I'm just happy with how everything has gone with our horse so far."
Whereas last year Hurricane Fly suffered a truncated campaign, having just one run before Cheltenham due to various training problems, this year his preparation could hardly have been more smooth.
Mullins is hoping that will make a significant difference to which Hurricane Fly turns up.
He said: "He's doing everything right this year so I'm just hoping. I don't think (pace) is a worry for Hurricane Fly.
"He has had three runs under his belt, he has done everything right and bounced back for every run right compared to last year when we just got one run into him before we went over there.
"We're very pleased and hopeful at this point."
lines up in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, better known as the David Nicholson, a race she will be trying to win for the fifth successive year.
If she completes the five-timer, Quevega will become only the second horse since the great Golden Miller to achieve the feat.
The legendary chaser dominated the Gold Cup between 1932 and 1936 and Quevega has annexed the David Nicholson in the same manner since 2009.
Quevega will once again be making her seasonal bow in the race, a tactic Mullins has employed for the last three years, but she will not bid for a quickfire double, despite still being in the field for Thursday's Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
"Quevega has done everything well, we think," said the County Carlow trainer.
"Not having had a run, it can be difficult to gauge her, but we think she's as good, if not better, than last year
"She's travelled great, she seems in really good form and the ground won't be an issue for her as she handles all types of going.
"We would not consider running her again on Thursday.
"You might consider something like that if a horse was very fit and had a lot of match practice, maybe had four or five runs during the season, but what we do with her is just give her one run and then after one run.
"It would be very unfair to ask her to run again so soon.
"(It's) like footballers having a match coming back from an injury and then being asked to tog out again two days later.
"Even though you get very fit from the training ground, there is no comparison.
"Match fitness is a different thing, it's like race fitness," Mullins told RTE.
Ruby Walsh has ridden Quevega to each of her previous Cheltenham triumphs and is hoping she can secure her place in racing history.
"She's in great form, she looks really well and Willie has her exactly where he wants her," he said.
"Only Golden Miller has won at the Festival five times so hopefully she can join him."
Quevega will clash again with some old rivals, including last year's runner up Kentford Grey Lady, who tries her luck again for trainer Emma Lavelle.
Last year's fourth Alasi also features in the 19-strong field along with Shop Dj (fifth), Cloudy Spirit (sixth) and Swincombe Flame (ninth).
New rivals for Quevega include last year's Fred Winter victor Une Artiste, who represents Nicky Henderson, and the David Pipe-trainer Swing Bowler, a daughter of former top chaser Lady Cricket.