Mullins confident 'Fly' will soar high
WILLIE Mullins is never a man to get overconfident, but the champion trainer clearly believes Hurricane Fly can fend off the young pretenders and justify his odds-on price in Sunday's Irish Champion Hurdle.
The record-breaking, 18-times Grade One winner will be aiming for a fourth consecutive victory in the BHP Insurance-sponsored Leopardstown showpiece, in which he will face some familiar foes.
The Closutton handler reports the 10-year-old to be in "great order" and is convinced he will improve from his last outing in the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas.
On that occasion, the reigning Champion Hurdler got the better of last season's leading novices - Jessica Harrington's Jezki and the Dessie Hughes-trained Our Conor - who renew rivalry on Sunday, probably along with veteran Captain Cee Bee.
'The Fly' is generally rated a 1/2 shot by bookies to record his eighth Grade One success at the Foxrock venue and while Mullins knows that his main rivals possess plenty scope for improvement, the positive vibes coming from the country's leading trainer are ominous.
Another Mullins' inmate, which has been mentioned as a possible Champion Hurdle contender, could be set for a further cross-channel trip this Saturday.
The unbeaten Annie Power - winner of her last two races at Cheltenham and Ascot - is among 11 entries for the OLBG.com Doncaster Mares' Hurdle.
The Rich Ricci-owned mare has swept all before her in nine victories so far and has been mooted as a contender for both the Champion and World Hurdles, with the owner hinting last week that he was inclined to opt for the former.
What makes her entry for this contest notable is the fact the race is over an extended two-mile contest, with her main rival likely to be John Quinn's Cockney Sparrow, which finished an excellent second to My Tent Or Yours in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.
However, Mullins has indicated that he will not make a final decision on her participation until Thursday.
The Closutton handler could also be represented at Cheltenham, where Mikael D'Haguenet and Boston Bob are amont 10 possible rivals to Big Buck's in the Cleeve Hurdle.
Mullins has already indicated Boston Bob is more likely to run in tomorrow's Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran, and Big Buck's biggest rivals on his comeback are likely to be Long Walk scorer Reve De Sivola and the JP McManus-owned At Fishers Cross, which has yet failed to hit the heights of last season's Cheltenham win.
Trainer Mouse Morris will be be keeping a close eye on the return of Big Buck's after confirming Rule The World will head straight for the World Hurdle at Cheltenham - a race which the Paul Nicholls-trained star has already won four times.
Rule The World was an impressive winner of the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas on Saturday and ran well at last year's Festival when chasing home leading Champion Hurdle contender The New One in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle.
The seven-year-old - which is owned by Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown House Stud - has since recovered from a potentially life-threatening pelvic injury and Morris believes his charge is capable of making his presence felt at Prestbury Park.
"He's come out of the race well. There's not a bother on him," said the Fethard-based handler.
"It was a good performance on the day. He quickened up nicely and he could do no more than win the way he did, so, hopefully, he's on the way back.
"Making the running wasn't ideal, but at the same time it will do him no harm.
"It was good education for him - he'll go straight for the World Hurdle now and better ground in Cheltenham should suit him well."
Irish Champion Hurdle, betting: 1/2 Hurricane Fly; 4/1 Jezki, Our Conor; 33/1 Captain Cee Bee.