WHEN Willie Mullins talks about Hurricane Fly he uses words and constructs his sentences in the manner you would expect from a nervous curator cradling a rare and precious artefact rather than a trainer of horses.
Seven weeks ago he stood in the Cheltenham parade ring and spoke of how he had counted down the weeks, days and minutes to the horse’s English debut and how, even with seconds to go, he feared a stray, debilitating kick prior to the start.
Everything about the horse’s preparations made him want to scream his chances from the rooftops but his Prestbury Park bow had been foiled twice before by injury and Mullins bit his lip even as the stated odds teased his resolve still further.
As we know now, his concerns came to naught.
Hurricane Fly won over a doubting British audience with his subsequent win in the Champion Hurdle and he consolidated his lofty status with a long-converted Irish following with his season’s fifth Grade One success in five attempts in another Champion Hurdle yesterday.
The win — and the comprehensive, seemingly effortless manner of it — prompted comparisons with Istabraq whose portrait was unveiled here in Kildare at the start of the week but Mullins laughed off such talk and prefered to deal in more mundane matters.
His priority? Simple. To get him home.
“As I said to someone earlier on, Paul Townend, Emmet Mullins and Jack Madden, those three people are riding him all season, Paul particularly. Their whole job was just to make sure that every blade of grass he trod on, every step he took was safe.
“No horse was to come near him, kick him. He did a lot of his work on his own this year and not with other horses. Our whole focus was just to mind him as much as we could and it has paid off. Particular tribute to those three.”
Mullins’ protective instinct towards Hurricane Fly is grounded in more than just the horse’s talent. After that win in Cheltenham, the Carlow trainer paid an emotional tribute to his late father, Paddy, who had instilled in him the need for patience in equine matters.
“One thing he taught me was to have patience with good horses,” he had said back in March. “You have to be prepared to wait and wait and we’ve done that on occasions during Hurricane Fly’s career.” They are being richly rewarded now.
The toughest part for Mullins throughout all the horse’s trials and tribulations was not the thought that his potential was being thieved by the passing years but picking up the phone and telling the owners that their pride and joy wouldn’t be taking the trip to Cheltenham. Twice.
George Creighton and Rose Boyd have been well compensated for any past disappointments since and, like the rest of us, must now be asking themselves just how much more there is to come from this powerful little pocketship.
Mullins was unable to dodge every query designed to pigeonhole Hurricane Fly’s potential position in the hurdling pantheon. The bait that finally snared him was innocuous enough. Can he be beaten on that sort of form?
“I don’t know. There is always a horse to beat you. Today’s race looked so messy at the start I thought ‘could they slip up around the bend or something’. He was just so strong and so well it would take a fair horse to beat him in the form he was in today.”
Ruby Walsh has partnered his fair share of champions and had little hesitation in hailing Hurricane Fly as the most complete hurdler he has ever had the good fortune to guide around a racecourse.
Two months ago, the sticklers amongst us could have diluted the value of his win at Cheltenham with a mention of Binocular’s late withdrawal but Nicky Henderson’s charge was among a small but select field that had no answer to the winner yesterday.
No caveats then, just the same kid gloves.
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