“It was the worst he has ever worked and I thought maybe the dream was over, maybe he’d had enough”, said Mullins.
Well, that is clearly not the case, as Hurricane Fly dug deep to land a magnificent 19th win at this level.
Captain Cee Bee took them along, with Ruby Walsh content to track the leader on Hurricane Fly.
Danny Mullins sat in third on Our Conor, while Tony McCoy, rather surprisingly, was last of the four on Jezki.
There was no change until into the straight, where Hurricane Fly and Our Conor emerged as the principals heading to the last.
Hurricane Fly got in tight to the obstacle and, momentarily, looked in real trouble, as Our Conor winged the flight.
Briefly, Our Conor shaped as the likely winner, but Hurricane Fly was having none of it and battled back to be nicely on top at the line, the verdict a length and a half.
Mullins, not a man to be overly animated whatever the circumstances, was clearly moved by what he had just seen.
“I have huge respect for the horse, after the bit of work I saw him doing during the week”, he said.
“If it was an ordinary race, with an ordinary horse, he wouldn’t have run. I would love to have waited another week, but the race was this weekend.
“He bit Paul (Townend) this morning, so that was a good sign. But we did every test with him and I was worried.
“Today was the first time he has missed the last hurdle and I thought was beaten. But he had the guts to fight back and that was extraordinary.
“The bad bit of work he did was stuck in my mind all week. I don’t know if the fact he had a stone bruise was sthe cause of it.
“I thought he might be sick, or incubating a cold. We have been watching him all week, watching his temperature and what he was eating.
“Ruby is a master tactician. I thought Hurricane Fly was the best horse I have ever trained coming here and this proves it.”
Commented Walsh: “I thought we were in trouble when he missed the last, but when he got his head in front again, I knew he wouldn’t be beaten.
“He has stamina, pace, jumps and will battle when you want him. It was a good performance and I hope there is enough in the tank for March. We’ve been proud of him a long time, he deserved the reception he got today.”
Our Conor emerged from the contest with great credit and this was a step forward on his third to Hurricane Fly in the Ryanair Hurdle here at Christmas.
His trainer, Dessie Hughes, said: “I’m disappointed a bit, but thrilled he improved, which I thought he would.
“Being a young horse he should improve, he was definitely a stone a better horse at Cheltenham last year.”
The tactics utilised on Jezki were hugely puzzling. To ride him from behind and to think he might be able to do Hurricane Fly for speed was surely wildly optimistic.
Paddy Power and Boylesports now have Hurricane Fly as their 5-2 favourite for the Champion Hurdle, while RaceBets went 3-1.
It is certainly going to be a fascinating six weeks or so to the Champion Hurdle. The bare evidence of this victory would obviously indicate Hurricane Fly faces an uphill struggle to win the race for a third time.
The form is completely dragged down by the proximity of the veteran, Captain Cee Bee.
The 13-year-old has no pretensions to be in this league and yet was only beaten two and three quarter lengths into third place.
Mullins, as expected, refused to be drawn into speculating whether Annie Power would join Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle, or take on Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle.
And then, of course, there is the dark horse, Mullins Un De Sceaux, who remains totally unexposed.
For now the Hurricane Fly dream remains alive and kicking. But, even accepting that his preparation was far from ideal, there is little doubt he is a long way short of being bomb proof.