Istabraq a safe Fly zone
Mullins' Hurricane should blow away Hurdle rivals
HURRICANE FLY continues his retrieval mission in tomorrow's Istabraq Hurdle as he is aimed to try and regain the Champion Hurdle crown he had to relinquish at last season's Cheltenham Festival.
The 2011 Champion Hurdle winner will have to be back to his very best if he is to reclaim the crown of the two-mile hurdling division and, compared to what he was last year when he finished third at Cheltenham, connections seem to be far happier this time around.
In truth, we are unlikely to learn very much from the Istabraq Hurdle tomorrow afternoon. Only a shock defeat for Hurricane Fly would leave us scratching our heads and forming a different opinion, but that would be a major bombshell as opposition to his title as the best two-mile hurdler in this country is as good as non-existent.
Last year, it was a very late decision by Mullins not to run Hurricane Fly in the Istabraq Hurdle and therefore he went to Cheltenham on the back of just one run, that coming when he beat Oscars Well by six-and-a-half lengths in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
His defeat at Cheltenham came as a surprise, but he just didn't have the same zest about him as the year before and followers of the horse can only hope that that sparkle has returned.
Go Native was going to give him plenty to think about in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown when he fell at the last and unfortunately a fatal injury the following week will mean he won't be back to reoppose.
On ratings, it is Hurricane Fly's stable companion Thousand Stars who comes out next best and once again he is sure to run a big race and claim a chunk of the prizemoney but have to settle for second best, while Dermot Weld's classy Moyglare mare Unaccompanied will surely again give a bold account.
Hurricane Fly will now bid to emulate his passage of the year in which he was last Champion Hurdle winner by taking the Istabraq Hurdle en route to the Irish Champion at the same venue and then onto the big one around the Cotswolds.
Nicky Henderson's Darlan lay down an interesting marker on St Stephen's Day and he overtook Hurricane Fly from his post as Champion Hurdle favourite.
With a small field which poses no real threat to his domination, it is hard to see Hurricane Fly encourage much revamp to that market tomorrow, although a bloodless victory, without Ruby Walsh having to take him off the bridle, may return him to race favourite for that all-important Champion Hurdle in March.
In truth, it is probably going to be March before we can definitively decide if Hurricane Fly is back to his best or not, as tomorrow and the Champion Hurdle in January are unlikely to pose a strong challenge.
But the fact that he has been lightly raced and fragile throughout his career, seeing him turn up in both the Morgiana and the Istabraq is a very positive start and let's hope the script goes according to plan all the way through to March 12.