- Cheltenham Festival, Day One
Hurricane storms to Champion glory
Hurricane Fly became the first horse since Comedy Of Errors in 1975 to regain the Champion Hurdle with a powerful display.
Defending champion Rock On Ruby set a fierce gallop and had Hurricane Fly off the bridle down the back straight, but the 2011 winner found his stride at the top of the hill and the stayed on powerfully to land a massive gamble.
Coming into the race the stats were against Hurricane Fly as only Comedy Of Errors had regained the title, but that did not put off the public who backed him at all rates into 13/8 favourite.
Trainer Willie Mullins was convinced his charge was not right when beaten last year, but he spoke positively prior to racing that he had him spot-on for this day.
- 1st: Hurricane Fly 13/8f
2nd: Rock O Ruby 11/2
3rd: Countrywide Flame 16/1
Fears of a false pace were unfounded, as Rock On Ruby set a fierce gallop. Zarkandar, Countrywide Flame and Grandouet were the only ones able to keep tabs on the leader - with Ruby Walsh niggling away on Hurricane Fly from an early stage.
Hurricane Fly made a mistake at the middle fight down the back straight and he looked in trouble at that point. But Walsh was aware that they had gone extremely hard from flagfall and he allowed his mount to pick his way into the race.
He did just that at the top of the hill and was within three lengths of the leaders when Grandouet took a crashing fall four from home. Hurricane Fly did well to sidestep Grandouet, but within a matter of strides he had come back on the bridle and was on the heels of the leaders.
Zarkandar was the first of the principals to feel the pinch, while Hurricane Fly loomed up on the outside three from home.
Rock On Ruby led at the second last, but he was joined by Hurricane Fly who took up the running turning for home. The injection of pace secured Hurricane Fly a three-length lead at the last.
He pinged the final flight and set off up the hill with three lengths in the bank. He started to wander and Walsh was forced to switch his whip as Rock On Ruby attempted to rally, but once straightened out he powered away to the roars of the packed stands.
"From the word go he never travelled like he can," Walsh said. "He's got a motor but what he has too is an unbelievably big heart. He's as tough as anything."
"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 said: "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."