Hurricane Fly powers up Cheltenham's hill to win a second Champion HurdlePICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
Hurricane Fly regains Champion Hurdle crown
Report: Cheltenham, Tuesday
Stan James Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 1.2f, 4yo+
HURRICANE FLY became just the second horse in history to regain the Champion Hurdle when the 2011 winner made it four wins from four starts this season as he trumped last year's winner Rock On Ruby.
The 13-8 favourite came home two and a half lengths in front of Rock On Ruby, with a further length and three-quarters back to Countrywide Flame in third.
In doing so he took his career earnings passed £1.3 million and usurped Moscow Flyer as the highest earning Irish-trained jumps horse in history.
Although Hurricane Fly had been uneasy in the betting in the run up to the race, he was rock-solid in the on-course market and duly became the first horse since Comedy Of Errors in 1975 to regain the Champion Hurdle.
This was a 15th win at the highest level for the nine-year-old, who was completing a near 15-1 double on the card for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh following the success of Champagne Fever in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. He was also the third winner of the afternoon to have scored at the festival before.
In first-time blinkers Rock On Ruby led them along at a true gallop from the off and while Zarkandar and Countrywide Flame were happy to go with him, Hurricane Fly and another previous winner, Binocular, did not seem so keen on the pace.
Grandouet completed the quartet that opened up a lead over the remainder but when that one came a cropper four out it was left to Hurricane Fly to lay down the gauntlet to the pacesetters.
"I can't say I was overly confident." said Walsh after. "From the word go he never travelled like he can. He's got a motor but what he has too is an unbelievably big heart. He's as tough as anything."
Hurricane Fly took it up at the top of the straight and although the placed horses tried their best to get back at him in the closing stages he was just too strong.
Walsh continued: "He pinged the last and ground it out up the hill. I'm glad he got it back and showed he's a true champion. Credit to the lads at home and Willie had him spot on. When we came to the winning post I just thought 'thank God' as I was never happy and got to the front two furlongs too soon."
Mullins added: "We knew he was in good form all year and I thought he was winning all the best trials. All we needed was a bit of luck and he's got that. Since he came back this year he's been heavier and stronger and after every race and every gallop he's bounced out of it and taken it in his stride."
Rock On Ruby was in the care of Paul Nicholls when winning the race last year and it was his former assistant Harry Fry who made the decision last week to fit headgear on him for the first time here.
The first-season trainer said: "He's run a brilliant race. Noel [Fehily] felt he has run as well as last year if not better. We were just beaten by a true champion, a better horse on the day. We couldn't have asked for any more, as always he's put his all on the line and kept galloping from start to finish."
John Quinn, trainer of the third horse home, was delighted with the effort from last year's Triumph Hurdle winner.
"He's run a huge race," he said of Countrywide Flame. "It's probably one of the best Champion Hurdles that has been run for a number of years and he's run a blinder for a five-year-old. He jumped well and travelled well and had the real-deal horses around him at the finish. We might run him in the two-and-half miler at Aintree next."