Trainer Willie Mullins branded Hurricane Fly “a horse of a generation” after he claimed his 18th Grade One in a top-notch renewal of the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown yesterday.
The peerless nine-year-old (11-10 favourite) expertly lowered the colours of Our Conor and Jezki, two of Ireland’s leading hurdlers, to ruthlessly defend his crown in the race under Ruby Walsh.
Mullins said: “He’s coming along and is going to improve again. He’s a fantastic horse and a horse of a generation.”
Jezki (15-8) fared best of the young pretenders when finishing a slightly unlucky second in the five-runner Grade One over two miles. Our Conor was third.
Laudable veteran Captain Cee Bee set a fierce pace under Mark Walsh, but he was unable to maintain such a rapid tempo and weakened two flights from home.
Hurricane Fly, who did not impress many when victorious in Punchestown’s Morgiana Hurdle on his seasonal bow, was at the back of the field for most of the journey before he slalomed into contention late in the piece.
Mullins’ ace jumped the last a fraction behind Our Conor, who along with Captain Cee Bee had earlier squeezed Jezki for room approaching the final flight.
Whereas Our Conor did not have much more to give, Jezki stayed on stoutly for jockey Tony McCoy.
Hurricane Fly was hardly knocked off his stride, though, and maintained a zesty gallop to ease two and a half lengths clear for another landmark success.
Mullins said: “It was a hugely tactical race and Ruby was very cool on him.
“At one stage I thought the leader (Captain Cee Bee) had got away in front, and Ruby had to quicken up a bit sooner than he would have liked to.
“We spent a long time getting him to settle and, as a result, he’s inclined to go to sleep early in his races. Because of that, we’ve changed slightly the way we’ve trained him.
“He’ll be back here at the end of January (Irish Champion Hurdle) and then it will be Cheltenham.”
Walsh said: “He came here and did his job. We still feel there’s a little bit of improvement to come.”
Trainer Jessica Harrington accepted Jezki had been beaten by “a champion”.
She said: “A strong-run race would have suited him.
“Going to the last, it looked like he’d be a bad third, and he ended up being a good second.
“He’s still only a five-year-old and I’m delighted with him.
“But if you’re going to get beaten, you get beaten by a champion.”
Our Conor was another three and a quarter lengths adrift of the brilliant winner.
Dessie Hughes, trainer of Our Conor, was satisfied with last season’s Triumph Hurdle winner on what was his first start over hurdles since the Cheltenham Festival in March.
He said: “I felt coming here if he got to within a few lengths (of Hurricane Fly) it would be a good run.
“It’s his first run over hurdles in eight months and his first time against older horses.
“I was very happy with the run and I think he’ll come on for it.”