Sport Horse Racing

Monday 19 February 2018

Hurricane flies to top of Champion Hurdle market

Thomas Kelly

Hurricane Fly's ascent up the hurdling ranks shows no signs of stopping and he firmly blew away the sceptics with a dazzling display at Leopardstown yesterday.

Despite having beaten long-standing rival Solwhit emphatically at Fairyhouse earlier this month, Hurricane Fly had not convinced everyone and some doubted if the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old could maintain his superiority on much softer ground in the iPhone App Festival Hurdle.

But so impressive was the former French-trained gelding in yesterday's feature that he was cut from 5/1 to 7/2 favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham -- a venue that injury has thus far prevented him from gracing.

Luska Lad went off in front, but Paul Townend ensured that he didn't get too far away from the field and tracked him at a respectable distance before joining the leader at the entrance to the straight.

Solwhit lost key momentum when Davy Russell tried to go up the rail on the inside of Luska Lad and this saw him make a mistake at the last.

Hurricane Fly was still cruising at this stage and flew the final flight before easing clear by two and a half lengths from Solwhit, who edged out Luska Lad for the runner-up spot.

"I thought the run at Fairyhouse took a good bit out of him and was afraid that he was a little bit flat coming here," said Mullins. "But he had to take his chance, and once again he showed what a turn of foot he has.

"There is nothing set in stone but I would like to get three runs into him before Cheltenham, and I'd say he'll come back here for the Irish Champion Hurdle next month."

Mullins and Townend were completing a double, having won the opening maiden hurdle with Cottrelsbooley, which made all for an easy victory.

Master Minded has been getting plenty of attention on the other side of the water but Colm Murphy's stable star Big Zeb enhanced his prospects of retaining his Queen Mother Champion Chase when taking the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase.


Murphy's charge edged out last year's winner Golden Silver to score by a length and three-quarters -- which helped jockey Barry Geraghty to a 59/1 treble.

"He'll go next for the Tied Cottage at Punchestown and then back to Cheltenham for the Champion Chase," said Murphy. "He jumped really well and is settling a lot better now."

Geraghty also struck on the Prunella Dobbs-trained Our Girl Salley in the ITBA EBF Mares Hurdle and on Gordon Elliott's The Shepherd in the staying handicap hurdle.

Normally associated with big Flat race winners at Leopardstown, Dermot Weld worked his magic once more when Majestic Concorde sprang a 33/1 surprise in the Paddy Power Chase.

Having been put away since July when third in the Galway Plate, amateur jockey Robbie McNamara gave an expert ride on his return to action.

The seven-year-old jumped the last well to seal a two-and-a-half-length victory from Becauseicouldntsee and was immediately listed at 33/1 for the Aintree Grand National.

"I think that's the first runner I've had in this race," said Weld. "The prize-money is great and he's a wonderful horse to train.

"He ran a great race in the Chester Cup and we learned a bit from the Galway Plate where we rode him around the inner and he got a bit squeezed up. I thought he had plenty of weight but he's got that bit of class."

The bookmakers breathed a sigh of relief when Willie Mullins' Zaidpour could finish only second behind First Lieutenant (16/1) in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle. Zaidpour never travelled with the same fluency as he had when winning at Fairyhouse and Townend was niggling some way out.

First Lieutenant, trained by Mouse Morris, hit the front after the last and held the odds-on favourite by a neck.

Jim Will Fix It (8/1), trained by Seamus Roche, held Mississippi River by a short head in the closing winners' bumper.

Irish Independent

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