Ruby Walsh believes Hurricane Fly is back to the sort of form he was in two years ago after he partnered Willie Mullins’ charge to a third successive BHP Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Never off the bridle in recording his 14th Grade One in all, he is now outright favourite to regain his championship title at Cheltenham.
Stablemate Thousand Stars and Paul Townend made it a decent gallop in atrocious conditions but when Walsh made his move rounding the home turn, the result was never in doubt.
Binocular travelled well for a long way but Tony McCoy’s mount was soon left in Hurricane Fly’s wake and Nicky Henderson’s 2010 champion just failed to get past Thousand Stars for second.
Hurricane Fly (1-6 favourite) won by five lengths.
“I thought it was a very good performance. It was a good even gallop, he travelled well, he jumped well and he moved away effortlessly from Paul’s horse (Thousand Stars),” Walsh told At The Races.
“I thought AP (McCoy) might follow me on Binocular but he was a bit keen early on and probably didn’t help himself.
“In fairness to Binocular he hadn’t run for so long so he was bound to be a bit fresh the way he ran. We had fitness on our side and we were going to use it.
“This year he’s had a longer and deeper preparation. He’s probably a fitter horse than he was last year.
“Hopefully that will stand him in good stead in March. All the Champion Hurdle trials in England are in the next fortnight and we will know a lot more then.”
Mullins has been much happier with Hurricane Fly this season and is looking forward to Cheltenham, where he could finish only third last year.
“He’s well used to these conditions and he flies through that ground so everything went according to plan,” said Mullins.
“We didn’t know what One Cool Shabra was going to do, but we weren’t going to be hanging around with either horse (Hurricane Fly and Thousand Stars) if there was no pace.
“When you look at the race it was a tip-top race. Binocular has won a Champion Hurdle, Thousand Stars has won two French Champion Hurdles and Captain Cee Bee won a Supreme.
“Everything had gone 100% in his preparation.”
Mullins went on: “Ruby said he’s as good as he ever saw him. He gave him a squeeze turning off the last bend and said it was just like he had jumped in.
“He took off like he was on summer ground and I just hope to keep him in that form over the next six or seven weeks. I’ve had faith in him all year and he seems to be in the sort of form he was two years ago.”
On Thousand Stars, Mullins said: “He ran a cracker and is coming back to himself – we may keep him for the Aintree Hurdle. They’ve brought that race back to Thursday this year so the gap between it and Cheltenham is that bit tighter.”
Reacting to the success, Joseph Burke for Stan James said: “Ruby Walsh merely gave Hurricane Fly an inch of rein and he put the race to bed in a matter of strides.
“He will now bid to become the first horse to regain his Stan James Champion Hurdle crown since Comedy Of Errors in 1975 and he remains favourite to do so at 11-4 (from 7-2) with Stan James.”
The stewards inquired into the running and riding of Binocular but after interviewing both Henderson and McCoy they accepted their explanations.
Henderson stated that McCoy was not tied to any instructions as he knew the horse well and that he was having his first run since March and the weather had held up his preparations, despite him being the same weight as for his last run.
He was satisfied with the ride but expressed the horse would be seen to better effect on better ground.
McCoy explained that he intended to follow Hurricane Fly but before the second-last he knew he would not be able to challenge the winner while still hoping to obtain second place.
Despite riding out and squeezing all the way up the straight he was unable to get past the second horse and added Binocular was inclined to lean left, showing he was tired.
“The stewards had a look at it and they were quite happy. There’s nothing more to say about it,” said Frank Berry racing manager to Binocular’s owner JP McManus.