Hurricane Fly could be Ireland's best chance of a victory at the Cheltenham Festival. (credit: MissChampers)
This year’s Champion Hurdle looked set to be a vintage renewal of the famous race until ante post favourite Binocular was sensationally ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival this morning.
The reigning champion was set to defend his crown after he powered to a particularly impressive victory in the race last year and he was considered by many to have a very strong chance of rewarding favourite backers with his second victory at his fourth consecutive Festival.
That being said, however impressive Binocular can be on his day, the thousands of Irish punters descending on Prestbury Park will still have been confident that Willie Mullins’ Hurricane Fly can fly their flag and secure his status as their best hurdler since the mighty Istabraq.
It will be the first time Mullins has managed to get his hugely talented but equally fragile superstar to the Festival and many will regard that as a triumph in itself. With seven victories in eight Grade Ones in Ireland Hurricane Fly has won his last four races, pummelling classy hurdler Solwhit each time.
His latest victory and most impressive performance came in the Irish Champion Hurdle and Hurricane Fly seemed to answer almost every question, turning in a near-faultless round to win easily. Jumping to his right at some obstacles (something his trainer believes would only happen in a small field) the son of Montjeu came to the last flight swinging on the bridle before quickening and disposing of Solwhit with consummate ease.
Sceptics will argue that the form doesn’t stack up but those who dismiss Hurricane Fly’s chances will need reminding that Solwhit is a multiple Grade One winner who was favourite for last year’s Champion Hurdle for some time. It would be easy for form students to say that Binocular beat Solwhit by eighteen lengths at Cheltenham but the latter wasn’t right that day and he remains a seriously difficult horse to pass.
What most people will agree on is that Hurricane Fly has everything you would want to see in a Champion Hurdle contender. His jumping is near faultless when he is concentrating on the task and he has enough speed to keep himself in a race should he make an early mistake. His slick jumping and his ability to cruise into a challenging position before knuckling down to the task are a potent mix and he has proved that he doesn’t mind getting in a battle to the line.
With the likes of Peddlers Cross, Menorah and Dunguib also taking their chance in an enthralling looking renewal of the opening day feature, the challenge to Hurricane Fly looks formidable. However the faster pace and better ground at Cheltenham are certain to suit his breathtaking acceleration and with his slick jumping, ability to stay and his desire to get his head in front, the French import has all the necessary ingredients to finally prove he is the best hurdler on both sides of the Irish Sea.
Champion Hurdle selection - Hurricane Fly (best price with bet365)