Friday 23 February 2018

Doubts over Hurricane's Festival run

Chris McGrath

With the vibes about Hurricane Fly getting more negative than a photographer's darkroom, Monday's Christmas Hurdle at Kempton is taking on greater significance.

The reigning two-mile hurdle champion has yet to race this season but while he's among the entries for next week's Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown, his fans may have to wait a bit longer for a sighting if the betting bush telegraph is a guide.

The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old was initially installed at 8/11 for the Grade One contest last week but had drifted to evens last night as an avalanche of money came for his stablemate Thousand Stars.

The progressive grey -- a former Cheltenham winner -- proved a successful supersub for the Closutton handler when the yard's star striker defected last month from the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown. Thousand Stars is now 2/1 from 7/2 for the Leopardstown feature.

There was no reaction from the Mullins stable, but Hurricane Fly -- despite his enormous talent -- has a history of physical fragility. The French import has won his last six contests, most recently when accounting for Thousand Stars and Binocular at Punchestown in May, but has raced only nine times in three years.

The champion remains favourite to defend his Cheltenham crown in March, but the door may now be swinging ajar for the English contingent to regroup.

Among the seven entries yesterday for the Kempton race were the trio vying for favouritism -- the 2010 champion Binocular, his old rival Overturn and Paul Nicholls' Rock On Ruby.

Binocular beat Overturn in last season's renewal but Donald McCain's seven-year-old, which has been busier than a reindeer in recent weeks, gained his revenge in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle last month, his first Grade One success. Rock On Ruby, one of last year's best novices, is untested at the highest level but the son of Oscar was impressive in victory at Newbury last month when he beat Raya Star, the winner of Saturday's valuable handicap at Ascot, by 10 lengths.

The Grade One St Stephen's Day warm-up before the King George VI Chase is completed by the Feltham Chase. Two of this term's most exciting recruits -- David Pipe's Grands Crus (whose three-year-old brother Gevrey Chambertin won easily on his debut at Ffos Las yesterday) and Nicky Henderson's Bobs Worth head the market.

Pipe is quietly confident that his horse holds the key. He reported yesterday that his exciting grey jumper had emerged from a recent victory at Newbury in great shape.

Bobs Worth, one of the best-backed winners at Cheltenham last March, is an outstanding staying prospect, and it will be fascinating if he and the brilliant Grands Crus start duelling before they reach the home bend.

Meanwhile, Philip Hobbs is still undecided on whether Menorah -- which unshipped Richard Johnson when making his chasing debut at Exeter -- will face Peddlers Cross and Sprinter Sacre in Tuesday's Wayward Lad Chase. The gelding is set to go back over fences after finishing fourth in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.

"We've three options," Hobbs said. "He could go to Kempton and run against the first and second favourites for the Irish Independent Arkle, or we could wait until Taunton on the Friday (December 30) or Newbury (December 31)."

Rubi Light delighted his trainer Robbie Hennessy when coming through a serious gallop ahead of the next week's Lexus Chase at Leopardstown with flying colours. The John Durkan Memorial winner is set to step up to three miles for the first time on December 28 and Hennessy could not be happier with his star turn following a racecourse gallop at Dundalk.

"We took him to Dundalk this morning for a spin over a mile and a half and everything went grand," said Hennessy. "It was nothing too mad but it should put him spot-on for Leopardstown." (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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