Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eye of the hurricane

By Stephen Dwyer

Like most people I remember very well the first time I saw Hurricane Fly. It was in the Future Champions Hurdle at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting of 2008. Although he was still only a four year old he blitzed a high class field which included a future Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner. Coming into the straight at Leopardstown that day Paul Townend looked under pressure trying to contain the fury underneath his reins. Hurricane Fly forged clear on the run-in as if a turbo-boost had kicked in, it was absolutely stunning. He won by ten lengths and you just knew this horse could win a Champion Hurdle.

Hurricane Fly would miss the next two Cheltenham meetings through suspensory ligament problems but last year he fulfilled his potential when winning the Champion Hurdle in impressive style. Hurricane Fly was bred in Ireland by Agricola del Parco 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 businessman George Creighton and Rose Boyd who runs an equestrian centre in Co. Down.

The horse previously won three times in France where he also finished ahead of subsequent Champion Stakes winner Literato. From France he 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 12 starts and now as an eight year old, is the perfect age for another Champion Hurdle win.

Where Hurricane Fly gets his speed from is no real secret. He is out of the winning Kenmare mare Scandisk, making him a half-brother to triple 7f-1m winner Thunderwing, He was sired by Montjeu, himself a world champion. Montjeu is 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 his most successful son on the National Hunt circuit.

The imperious Istabraq was six when he won the first of his three Champion Hurdles, Hurricane Fly is a best priced 6/4 chance for repeating his Cheltenham win next month. His high cruising speed, fluency over hurdles and his crushing  turn of foot should see him home.  Praise too from Ruby Walsh who said of the horse “He’d win a Group One on the Flat, too, if you wanted”.

 When running at Cheltenham last year, Hurricane Fly 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.

If anything this year, Hurricane Fly has improved. His run last month on deteriorating ground he cantered around Leopardstown. In doing so he won the Irish Champion Hurdle in a canter, barely breaking sweat. It is hard to pick holes in his form, Binocular and Zarkandar are worthy adversaries but all things being equal Hurricane Fly is a step above these two and you feel that he has the extra gears to take him to where he needs to be. In the past it has often taken two people to lead him around the parade ring. Hurricane Fly can be highly strung but this season he is a more settled horse. This may be the perfect year for a repeat of last year’s win as since 1951 only three winners of the Champion Hurdle have been aged older than eight.

He is reported by his trainer to be in excellent condition, after the Irish Champion Hurdle Willie Mullins declared "There is no stiffness or soreness at all. We couldn't be happier with him." With the Hurricane Fly camp upbeat about the chances of their star, it is all systems go for Cheltenham.

On a final note, Hurricane Fly’s groom, Gail Carlisle, says his guilty pleasure is carrots, one might think that after Cheltenham, there will be no shortage of them around Closutton.

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