Hurricane short of full force
Fly makes winning return in Morgiana but Mullins' 'fresh' star fails to totally convince
YOU could debate until we all go deaf, but no matter how long you spend discussing it, we will never know if Go Native had the measure of Hurricane Fly in yesterday's Morgiana Hurdle.
A crashing fall from Noel Meade's former Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner left the 2011 Champion Hurdle hero in front without a challenge after the last hurdle and opinion was divided as to whether Hurricane Fly would have kicked off his season with a win otherwise.
Nonetheless, Go Native has well and surely put out his claims for another tilt at the Champion Hurdle in March and his credentials will be tested further in one of the Grade One two-mile hurdles at Christmas, either at Leopardstown or Kempton.
Willie Mullins is keen to keep Hurricane Fly at home and sent out a shivering statement for those in the top rank of the two-mile hurdling division.
"I was never happy with him last year, but he is a different horse this year and I have been happy with him," he said.
Despite being never happy with him, Mullins still got Hurricane Fly to finish third in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and he was victorious in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
The Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse was all but ruled out by Mullins, who added: "He'll be entered in everything, but the Grade One at Leopardstown and the Irish Champion Hurdle are well spaced out before Cheltenham and I'd be keen to follow that route."
Ruby Walsh was forced to make the running on the eight-year-old, which was something Mullins admitted he wouldn't be afraid to do again.
He concluded: "We knew he handled the track and we weren't worried about the ground and he has won over further. It was just the fact that we were taking on two horses who were race fit and the freshness of him having his first run but he settled well."
Bookmakers Boylesports held their ground regarding Hurricane Fly's Cheltenham chances and he was unchanged at 5/1, while Go Native was clipped from 25/1 into 16s.
If there was any cloud of doubt looming over the form of the Mullins' outfit going into this weekend, winners at Cheltenham and Dundalk on Friday and Punchestown on Saturday were followed by a five-timer yesterday between Cork and Punchestown.
Both Grade Two Novice Chases at Punchestown went to Mullins with Twinlight and Back In Focus sticking to their respective tasks well to beat Baily Green and Lyreen Legend respectively.
At Cork, the undoubted highlight was the hurdling debut of Champagne Fever who was never asked to extend fully when running out a five-length victor under Paul Townend.
The Cheltenham and Punchestown Champion Bumper winner pleased his trainer who said from Punchestown: "It is nice to get that out of the way. He jumped very well and he has such a high cruising speed."
A slight gloss was taken off the weekend action at Cheltenham as both star attractions Sprinter Sacre and Darlan were withdrawn by trainer Nicky Henderson due to the ground conditions.
Sprinter Sacre has the Tingle Creek as his main focus and the Shloer Chase, which he was supposed to be a long odds on favourite for, was won by Wishfull Thinking, while the feature Racing Post Hurdle went to Olofi under Paddy Brennan.