Fly hits heights in champion show
Mullins claims star is in form of life for Festival after Hurdle win
"RUBY said he was his best ever today," were some of Willie Mullins' initial comments after Hurricane Fly eased to a 14th Grade One victory in wintry conditions at Leopardstown yesterday.
Hurricane Fly is now clear favourite for the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham as he was cut across the board and is now a best-priced 11/4 with Boylesports.
A sequence of 10 consecutive Grade One victories was brought to an end in last year's Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham when the nine-year-old could only manage to finish third to Rock On Ruby and, despite returning to winning ways in the Punchestown equivalent the following month, connections were always adamant that Hurricane Fly wasn't in his best form.
"I have had faith in him all year. I have been telling you (the press) all year that he is back to what he was two years ago. He is holding his form and could even be improving," Mullins said after his horse's triumph in BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle yesterday.
On yesterday's evidence, there is little to suggest that Hurricane Fly won't add to his haul of victories at Grade One level and many now feel he is in line to regain his Champion Hurdle crown.
Mullins continued: "Ruby said when he gave him a squeeze to go win his race that he just took off as if he was on real good ground and he is in fantastic form. If I can just keep him in that form now for the next six or seven weeks I will go to Cheltenham very happy.
"When you consider there was a dual French Champion Hurdle winner and a Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winner behind him, it was a fair race and Ruby said he was the best he ever saw him."
Referring to last year, the champion trainer said: "He just wasn't right. When he came back in from grass this year he was a lot stronger and he has held his strength.
"Every time I have worked him he has held his condition and ate up and last year he couldn't hold his condition. We could never really put our finger on it, but sometimes that happens and that's it."
The stewards held an inquiry into the running and riding of Nicky Henderson's Binocular, who was just touched off for second place by Thousand Stars.
Henderson and jockey Tony McCoy put their views forward and both suggested that JP McManus' nine-year-old had been tired after a lengthy lay-off. Having considered the evidence, the stewards noted the explanations offered.
Of Thousand Stars, Mullins added: "I might try and skip Cheltenham and try and win the Aintree Hurdle with him. They have moved that race to the Thursday now so there is less time to run in both races."
Mullins ended Leopardstown with a four-timer yesterday afternoon as Glens Melody under Paul Townend reversed form with Zuzka in the Frank Ward Solicitors Solerina Mares Hurdle, and Rupert Lamb claimed the beginners' chase under Ruby Walsh.
But it was the Walsh-ridden Pont Alexandre who was the most convincing winner on the card, aside from his more esteemed stable companion Hurricane Fly.
The five-year-old made it two from two since joining from France and after introducing himself on the Irish scene with an effortless success in Grade One company, the 4/7 favourite carried out yesterday's task in the Grade Two Synergy Security Solutions Novice Hurdle with similar conviction.
There was a daunting warning from Mullins for those likely to take him on in the Neptune Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham: "We think he is a good ground horse," he claimed.
Holding him in such high regard, Mullins suggested: "He would appear to be one of the best novice hurdlers we have had - apart from Hurricane Fly maybe.
"That was a huge performance to make all on that ground and in that weather. He is obviously very brave."
It would be unfair to say that Leopardstown had a bit of every season yesterday, as a summery feel was well and truly absent, but spring, autumn and winter were very much accounted for on an afternoon that the Hurricane dominated.