Hurricane Fly primed to weather challenge of old rival
It doesn't seem all that long ago since Hurricane Fly and Go Native met as a couple of smart novice hurdlers at the 2008 Leopardstown Christmas Festival.
That the pair are meeting again for only the third time today, having followed a similar career path down the years, is an unusual occurance in top-class national hunt racing.
Hurricane Fly was sensational that day at Leopardstown and it was here that we got the first indication of his devastating turn of foot. But injury ruled him out of the next two festivals, and it was Go Native which went on to Festival glory that season with victory in the Supreme Novice Hurdle.
The following season, Noel Meade's charge would go on to set up a £1m bonus by winning the Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdles before injury struck in the build-up to his Champion Hurdle bid and it was that injury that kept him off the track for 939 days.
That he lines up today with a significant chance is testament to the patience of his trainer and everyone else back at Tu Va stables. He looked as good as ever with Nina Carberry on board him at Galway and appears now to be a real contender for major honours again.
However, he does face an unenviable task today if we are to believe Willie Mullins' assertion that Hurricane Fly has come back better than ever.
The Champion Hurdle favourite will have his conditions today at Punchestown, with soft ground and a small field to negotiate.
Race fitness will not be an issue as the son of Montjeu has been able to overcome an absence of 121-plus days on five of his 11 Grade One wins.
That should be enough for him to take care of his old rival and Unaccompanied, which has looked below par on the flat already this year.
Go Native is not to be written off with later dates in mind, as good ground and a flatter track will play to his strengths. He is also a Festival winner and looks value now at 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle, no matter what happens today.
The Grade Two Craddockstown Novice Chase should also provide a few Festival clues with Oscars Well, already as short as 8/1 for the Arkle, set to go off favourite for Jessica Harrington.
Rated 160 over hurdles, the son of Oscar could not have done much more on his debut over fences but he does face three dangerous-looking rivals in his stablemate Jenari, Mullins' Twinlight and the Mouse Morris-trained Baily Green.
The latter named will have to give weight away, but is a triple Grade Three winner over fences and can put it up to the favourite with favourable conditions prevailing today.
Mullins should be able to take the Grade Two Florida Pearl Chase with Back In Focus, an interesting chasing recruit in the colours of Andrea and Graham Wylie.
The Bob Back gelding won a Grade Two three-mile hurdle on heavy ground at Haydock last season and stamina looked his forte when he won on his first start over fences at Listowel in September.
Perhaps significantly, Andrew Lynch travels to Cork today, where he rides Six Stone Ned for Noel Meade in the featured Grade Three handicap hurdle. The six-year-old looks progressive and can build on a pleasing performance at Naas last time.
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