Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hurricane Fly

Hurricane Fly

By Stephen Dwyer

Now there can be no doubt, Hurricane Fly is horse of the year. His performance in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Punchestown will live long in the memory. He is five wins from five starts this season and finishes out the year as an unbeaten Champion. Willie Mullins, trainer of Hurricane Fly noted after his rout in the Irish Champion Hurdle “That was just awesome, the best I’ve seen from him”.

His five length victory and the manner in which he destroyed the small but select field was truly remarkable. He turned a race featuring last year’s Champion Hurdler and Supreme Novice’s winner into a cakewalk. Not often does that happen in a Grade 1 at the end of the season in a race worth €160,000 and the rarity of this occurrence typifies the class of Horse Hurricane Fly is, an indisputable superstar.

Just before the Irish Champion Hurdle was off, my phone received a text from a racing colleague, “there’s a hurricane warning at Punchestown” it read. How right my weatherman friend was. The race was settled in a few short strides between the second and last hurdle, Hurricane Fly jumps hurdles with such speed and prowess that very few can live with him.

This season, Hurricane Fly answered every question asked of him. He is not the biggest horse in the world and prone to injury. Suspensory ligament problems resulted in him missing the last two Cheltenham festivals before claiming the Champion crown last March, at the first time of asking.

Hurricane Fly is by Montjeu, himself a world Champion. One of the top sires in the world for flat horses, his progeny has produced two Irish and two English Derby winners as well as the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and St. Leger. Montjeu’s speed has been passed on to Hurricane Fly and he is by far and away his most successful son on the national hunt circuit.

Hurricane Fly was bred in Ireland and sold as a yearling at Goffs for €65,000. He was sent to France and subsequently bought out of the Jean-Luc Pelletan yard for an undisclosed sum on the advice of bloodstock agent Richard Hobson. The acquisition by Hobson (who is also responsible for the purchase of Golden Silver and Pomme Tiepy) was on behalf of retired Belfast construction worker George Creighton and Rose Boyd who runs an equestrian centre in Co. Down. The horse previously won three times in France and was sent to trainer Wille Mullins. Hurricane Fly won at the first time of asking in May 2008 at Punchestown. Since then, he has been beaten only once in eleven starts and is still a seven year old and may improve again next season as he is filling out all the time.

In what could be seen as a passing of the hurdling mantle, Istabraq was honoured at Punchestown this year when a 13ft x 10ft painting was unveiled. The canvas, the largest horse painting in Europe was entitled 'Istabraq - Ireland's Favourite'. By the end of the week, Hurricane Fly was rapidly advancing on that title.

The imperious Istabraq was six when he won the first of his three Champion hurdles, Hurricane Fly is a best priced 7/4 chance for repeating his Cheltenham win next year and if he stays injury free, his ability and turn of foot will see him home. Ruby Walsh said yesterday "He'd win a Group One on the Flat, too, if you wanted"
Long before thoughts of returning to Cheltenham should be entertained, we should reflect a on the achievements of Hurricane Fly this season. When running at Cheltenham this year, he had already won seven Grade 1 races; this was more than all of his Champion Hurdle rivals put together. He became the first horse since Hardy Eustace in 2004 to complete the Champion Hurdle double at Cheltenham and Punchestown.

His win at the Cheltenham Festival under Ruby Walsh was particularly special. This victory means that Ruby is now one of only four jockeys in the past four decades to have completed the treble of Champion Hurdle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National.

With the season now wrapped up, he is Ireland’s highest rated National Hunt horse. He will have a deserved break.

On a final note, Hurricane Fly’s groom, Gail Carlisle, says his guilty pleasure is carrots.

I feel there will be no shortage of them around Closutton this summer.

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