Hurricane Fly saunters to 16th Grade 1 victory
Report: Punchestown, Friday
Rabobank Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m, 4yo+
IT HAS been a Punchestown at which horses have made history. Sprinter Sacre completed a big-festival treble, Quevega did the double for the fourth consecutive time and, in the Champion Hurdle, Hurricane Fly joined John Henry and Kauto Star to tie the record for Grade 1 victories with his 16th such success.
Like Quevega it was Hurricane Fly's fourth consecutive win in the race, and like Quevega he was mightily impressive. Settled in third by Ruby Walsh, the Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old cruised into the lead rounding the home turn and powered clear for an authoritative victory over Thousand Stars, who got the better of Rock On Ruby for third.
"Last Saturday morning himself and Quevega worked and they blew me away with the work they did so we were keeping our fingers crossed that it was as good as it looked," said Mullins.
"He hasn't many miles on the clock, so we'll keep him fresh and come back for the the same races again. You're always scared of younger horses coming up as they can improve, my fellow won't. That's his form. Younger horses can improve up to a stone or even more as they mature. You have to respect their form."
Thousand Stars has now finished behind Hurricane Fly in all ten of their meetings, all at the highest level, and he again boxed on tenaciously to get the better of Rock On Ruby, having been headed by the Harry Fry-trained raider on the home bend.
Rock On Ruby tried to serve it up to Hurricane Fly once turning for home, the soft conditions meaning Noel Fehily chose not to make all as at Cheltenham. Instead they sat second to Thousand Stars, allowing the grey to make the running and sitting on his quarters, with Fehily putting the pressure on every time Townend tried to ease the pace.
Turning for home, Rock On Ruby tried to make it a long sprint for home but barely got Hurricane Fly out of second gear. The hugely classy champion, winning for the fifth time in an unbeaten season, powered into the lead, dismissing his rivals with contempt and going away under minimal urging from the saddle.
It was a hugely impressive victory, powering seven lengths clear on the run in. Paddy Power and BetVictor were unchanged at 5-1 about Hurricane Fly continuing his dominance and landing next year's Champion Hurdle for a third time. Stan James went 9-2 for the race they sponsor, while Coral went 4-1.
Ladbrokes were even more impressed, going 3-1, while Boylesports took the most evasive action, cutting the Mullins-trained superstar to 5-2, half the price of other firms.
Cheltenham has largely been where he has been least impressive, but it would take great bravery to suggest that at some point next season he won't hold the record for Grade 1 wins outright.