Hurricane storms to victory
Hurricane Fly regained his Stan James Champion Hurdle crown with what was in the end a commanding victory at the Cheltenham Festival.
There was a stage in the race when the Willie Mullins-trained 13-8 favourite did not seem to be going well at all under Ruby Walsh as Rock On Ruby bowled along in front, but he was travelling strongly again when they reached the business end of the contest.
He led on the turn for home and jumped the last in front, and though Rock On Ruby kept on in determined fashion, Hurricane Fly had enough in the locker to dig deep and score by two and a half lengths. Countrywide Flame ran a great race to finish third, another length and three-quarters away.
Hurricane Fly won the Champion Hurdle in 2011, but was beaten into third when an odds-on favourite 12 months ago, and was bidding to become the first horse to regain the title since Comedy Of Errors in 1975.
Walsh said: "I can't say I was overly confident - from the word go he didn't travel as well as he can. He has an unbelievably big heart for a small horse. He made a mistake or two, but he's as tough as nails.
"I was in front a good two furlongs too soon. He pinged the last and I'm glad he got it back to show everyone he's a true champion hurdler."
Mullins added: "We knew he was in good form all year. He was wining by far what I thought were the best trials in Ireland, and we got luck in running.
"Last year was so disappointing, but since he came back this year he has been much heavier and stronger. Every gallop he's had, every race he's had, he's bounced back and taken it all in his stride.
"He was so aggressive in the pre-parade ring and he wanted to get on with the job. I was a bit worried at halfway. They'd gone such a pace and Ruby must have known that, too. Tactically, Ruby has a clock in his head and confidence in this horse as well.
"That was a big plus for this horse as a lot of other guys would maybe have taken the stick out at halfway to keep him with the pace. Ruby just stayed where the horse was comfortable. He's the champion hurdler again now."