Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

Hurricane Fly can clear final hurdle and make Cheltenham history, say Northern Ireland owners

Trainer Willie Mullins, owner George Creighton, jockey Paul Townend and Hurricane Fly
Trainer Willie Mullins, owner George Creighton, jockey Paul Townend and Hurricane Fly

The Northern Ireland owners of top racehorse Hurricane Fly are backing the thoroughbred to make history at Cheltenham this week.

The nine-year-old, owned by Belfast's George Creighton and Crossgar's Rose Boyd, is favourite to win today's Champion Hurdle.

If it takes the title, it will be the second victory for the gelding in the notoriously tough race.

The 'Ulster Hurricane' stormed to victory in Cheltenham's 2011 Champion Hurdle, but was beaten into third place in the race 12 months later.

But he has never looked a better bet as Irish jockey Ruby Walsh has won three races on Hurricane Fly since November.

The Creighton family is now hopeful that the racehorse will become the first in nearly 40 years to reclaim the Champion Hurdle title.

The only other racehorse to do that was British thoroughbred Comedy Of Errors, which regained the crown in 1975 on the back of its victory at the prestigious race in 1973.

Hurricane Fly was bought in 2008 by George Creighton, who is retired from the construction industry.

Creighton lives in the city's Stranmillis area of Belfast and Hurricane Fly runs in his colours.

The horse is partly owned by Rose Boyd, who runs an equine centre in Crossgar, Co Down.

Boyd is a well known personality in the point-to-point world and Master of Killultagh Harriers.

Along with her husband Frank, she has owned some top-class horses trained by Willie Mullins, who trains Hurricane Fly. George Creighton's grandson, Lewis (25), told the Belfast Telegraph: "The plan was to give him three runs before Cheltenham and thankfully he has had three runs.

"It's going to be quite a hurdle. But Hurricane Fly and Ruby Walsh are in good form.

"Everyone is hopeful here in Belfast that we will go back over and get it.

Mr Creighton added: "The last time someone reclaimed the Champion Hurdle was in the 1970s.

"It's Cheltenham at the end of the day. It's a very tough place to go to, no matter what horse you have."

Hurricane Fly had a remarkable year in 2011 – outstripping its competition every time, with five wins out of five.

"We are hoping to reclaim that line of form," Lewis, who is spokesman for the Creighton family, said on Sunday.

Paddy Power was offering odds of 2/1 on Hurricane Fly on Sunday.

The Irish bookmaker has also taken the unusual decision of offering to refund losing bets if Hurricane Fly wins this year's Champion Hurdle.

Earlier this month, Ruby Walsh said he was "utterly perplexed" at the negativity surrounding his bid to bring home the Champion Hurdle title for a second time.

But he can bank on the support of Ulster's fans.

"There's a big enough contingent from here," added Lewis Creighton, who will be one of 26 family and friends cheering their horse on at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

Background

The festival at Cheltenham is the jewel in jump racing's crown and the highlight of the racing calendar – and has been almost taken over by Irish horses, trainers and punters. The four-day meeting is also renowned for boasting some of the toughest courses in jump racing.

The first organised flat race meeting in Cheltenham took place in 1815 on Nottingham Hill. But in 1829, a sermon by Cheltenham's Parish Priest, Reverend Francis Close, on the evils of horse racing led to the race meeting of 1830 being disrupted. The grandstand was burned to the ground before the following year's meeting. More than 700,000 people now visit the racecourse throughout the year.

The Champion Hurdle, which is traditionally Cheltenham's opening race, is the Festival's highlight, alongside the Gold Cup.

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