Monday, February 11, 2013

BAU at Leopardstown

BAU at Leopardstown
By Stephen Dwyer

There is a colloquial term within large corporations which refers to everything running within normal parameters. BAU, or Business As Usual might be one of those “Americanisms”  that has slipped into our vocabulary but it perfectly describes events in the Irish Champion Hurdle last Sunday. It was BAU for Hurricane Fly as he captured his third successive win in the Grade 1 event, barely breaking sweat.

Conditions were outrageous, driving sleet and snow paid havoc with the going and jockeys reported the ground to be as testing as it had ever been at the Foxrock venue. No matter for the ‘ Fly, three flights from home he cruised into second position and from there coasted to the line, eased down by five lengths. Around Leopardstown that is his aggregate winning distance, unbeaten in six starts at the track it was a fitting setting to capture his fourteenth win at the highest level.

Much was made of the opposition on Sunday and just five went to post but in truth Binocular and Thousand Stars were always playing for second place. And so it came to pass. Barely a nose separated the two as Tony McCoy was held by Paul Townend for the runner-up spot. Though rated four pounds higher than Thousand Stars, Binocular had not run for 320 days and carried condition, in abundance. In truth it was a good effort from the former Champion Hurdler and improvement is assured.

Binocular’s performance attracted the attention of the stewards who accepted the reason for the placing was essentially a lack of match fitness. Many of those in attendance felt that more use should have been made of Binocular but the reality is that he is a hold up horse. When winning  the Kingwell and Christmas Hurdles, he did so from off the pace, he is a horse that needs to be nursed into a race. Overturn beat him the Fighting Fifth in no small part due to Binocular racing far too keenly early on and it was the same in the Irish Champion Hurdle when he ran at Punchestown, he kicked off and led early and could not stay on at the business end.

To run Thousand Stars to a nose was a good effort, Thousand Stars is a dual French Champion Hurdle winner who has already ran twice this season and it is hard to understand what was expected  from Binocular. In the end he finished 29 lengths ahead of Captain Cee Bee who has already won a Group 2 hurdle this season so he is no slouch.

But the day belonged to Hurricane Fly. He finished up the 1/6 favourite, 1/10 on the Tote, the shortest priced winner of the race in living memory, even Istabraq finished at a bigger but equally unbackable price of 2/9 when winning the third of his Irish Champion Hurdles in 2000 in a similarly small contest. There is no doubt that Hurricane is the best hurdler since Istabraq. He boasts a better winning record,  has never fallen and has amassed more prize money despite running less races than Istabraq.  For the record Istabraq raced over hurdles 29 times, winning 23 races and £1,007,957. Hurricane Fly has raced 19 times over hurdles, winning 16 of these and accumulating £1,020,574 in prize money.

But it is a moot point comparing the two. Success in the present is only shattered by comparison with the past. Right now Hurricane Fly is top of the heap. Ruby Walsh is on record as saying that the horse has so much speed he could win a Group 1 on the flat if he wanted to. He won’t get off the ‘Fly in March, nothing in Paul Nicholls yard has a better chance and at present Ruby is being diplomatic, an understandable position.

In just over eight weeks’ time, Hurricane Fly attempts to win back the Champion Hurdle crown that is lost to Rock On Ruby in 2011. He has a tough task in front of him. No horse has won back the Festival Champion Hurdle since Comedy of Errors in 1975, but if there is one who can defy that statistic, it is Hurricane Fly. He cast aside the “Montjeu” curse in 2011 and can do so again in March. I would be a lot happier taking 3/1 for him now than the 4/7 last year when he was not a sound horse, coughing a week before the race, gifting eleven lengths to Rock On Ruby at Cheltenham and had an off day, it happens.

That his trainer Willie Mullins has either the favourite or second favourite in 14 of the 27 races at the Cheltenham Festival is just a reflection on the strength in depth at Closutton and Hurricane Fly is quite happy to lead the charge, as he does at home on the gallops.

Out of interest, we must correct Willie Mullins who recently said that the very useful Pont Alexandre was the first horse he put into Grade 1 for his first run over hurdles,  but he was wrong. This honour fell to Hurricane Fly who won the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse as a 4 year old That will tell you the regard that he has for Pont Alexandre.

Pont Alexandre has a long way to go before being compared with Hurricane Fly but a good start is half the battle.

I hope Ruby remembers that when he lines up at the start of the Champion Hurdle on March 12th.

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