Cheltenham: Hurricane Fly the one to beat
Hurricane Fly is set to blow away the opposition when the Cheltenham Festival starts tomorrow. There will be a real buzz when the Ulster-owned Fly goes for a Champion Hurdle hat-trick following on from stunning victories in 2011 and 2013.
Hurricane Fly, owned by Rose Boyd from Crossgar and Belfast's George Creighton, has a world record 19 Grade One victories already but will have to be on top form to rack up number 20 in tomorrow's £400,000 feature.
Ulster great Tony McCoy will ride My Tent Or Yours, one of the Fly's main rivals, but danger also comes in the form of The New One, Our Conor and Jezki, the latter winner of the WKD Hurdle at the Down Royal Festival in November.
McCoy's great friend and rival Ruby Walsh will be on board Hurricane Fly tomorrow.
Walsh believes that, at Cheltenham, we have yet to see the best of the Fly, who at 10 years old will have to get the better of younger rivals. "I don't think I've done things right on him at Cheltenham. The day I get it right, he'll show England what he's shown Ireland," said Walsh, who has a record 38 Festival winners to his name.
Even rival trainer Nicky Henderson rates defending champion Hurricane Fly as the horse his hope, My Tent or Yours, and McCoy must beat to land him a record-breaking sixth Champion Hurdle in his illustrious training career.
"It is a great Champion Hurdle and it's so open," said Henderson. "You could finish fifth and have run the race of your life.
"You've got to start with Hurricane Fly, there's no doubt about it. He just comes there every year and I don't think he's done anything wrong all season.
"He has to be the one to beat, but I still have a sneaky feeling about Our Conor. He was impressive last year and I think he'll be peaking at the right time.
"I respect The New One. Okay, we jumped the last hurdle better at Kempton, but there's nothing between them.
"They did make a bad mistake at the last and it was tight anyway, so they are probably quite justified in saying they would have won.
"Jezki is there as well and don't underestimate him at all, and I'd never underestimate Melodic Rendezvous – I think he's a good horse."
McCoy could have bided his time until this weekend before choosing between Henderson's leading hope and owner JP McManus' other main contender Jekzi. But the 18-time champion jockey pinned his colours firmly to the My Tent Or Yours mast a fortnight ago, providing Henderson with a major boost to his hopes of winning the race again.
"I think it's a show of confidence, which I'm pleased about," said the Berkshire handler. "I know AP has been impressed with him both times he's won at Kempton. The fact he's happy with the horse shows you that, and it's nice to have his confidence."
There is plenty of other Ulster interest over the four days, including defending champion Bobs Worth, bred in Fermanagh by Lois Eadie, in the Gold Cup, Friday's showpiece.
The Local Connections
Hurricane Fly: Stan James Champion Hurdle, Tuesday, 3.20; trainer Willie Mullins; owners Rose Boyd (Crossgar) and George Creighton (Belfast).
Glens Melody: OLBG Mares Hurdle, Tuesday, 4.00; trainer Willie Mullins; owner/breeder Fiona McStay (Newry).
Flaxen Flare: Coral Cup, Wed, 2.40 or Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle, Fri, 2.05; trainer Gordon Elliott; owner Mrs Pat Sloan (Templepatrick).
Man With Van: Coral Cup, Wed, 2.40; trained in Larne by Stuart Crawford; owned by Jetmac
Big Shu: Glenfarclas Handicap Chase, Wed, 4.0; trainer Peter Maher; Ulster owners Caroline Woods, Hugh Duffy and Richard Robinson.
Killultagh Vic: Weatherbys Champion Bumper, Wed, 5.15; trainer Willie Mullins; Ulster owners Rose Boyd, B Anderson and Mrs M Armstrong.
Izzini: Weatherbys Champion Bumper, Wed 5.15; trained in Larne by Stuart Crawford; owned by Brann/Cuming/Gabbett Partnership.
Bobs Worth: Betfred Gold Cup, Fri, 3.20; trainer Nicky Henderson; owners The Not Afraid Partnership; bred in Fermanagh by Lois Eadie.
Carsonstown Boy: Foxhunter Chase, Fri, 4.00; trained in Crossgar by Colin McBratney; owned by JT Monaghan.
Tammys Hill: Foxhunter Chase, Fri, 4.00; trained in Newry by Liam Lennon; owner/breeder Patrick J Smyth.
Strongpoint: Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle, Fri, 2.05; trained in Larne by Stuart Crawford; owned by S McAlister.