It's Ruby's Tuesday as Hurricane Fly regains Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival
On an awe-inspiring opening day in the Cotswolds that yielded a 33/1 treble for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, Hurricane Fly's dogged performance in wresting his Stan James Champion Hurdle crown back from Rock On Ruby shone brightest of all.
In an epic Cheltenham Festival encounter, the nine-year-old looked in serious trouble early on. Noel Fehily had set out to make all on last year's winner, and Hurricane Fly couldn't cope with the fractions.
There was even a point before they began the steep ascent at the far point of the course that you wondered if Walsh might have to pull him up. For all that he was busy, though, the Kildare wizard's body language lacked urgency.
He refused to panic, and he was surely the only person in Prestbury Park about which that could be said at the time. It was an exquisite piece of horsemanship.
Hurricane Fly eventually found his feet down the hill. Inexplicably, he cruised onto the shoulder of Rock On Ruby, before surging to the front around the final bend.
At that point, the stands erupted, and the popular 13/8 favourite powered up the hill to immortality.
It was an inspired effort from both horse and rider, one that definitively propels Hurricane Fly into an elite pantheon of the all-time greatest hurdlers.
"It's brilliant," Walsh beamed afterwards. "From the word go he was never travelling like he can do, and he made a few mistakes.
Hurricane Fly background
The nine-year-old, owned by Belfast's George Creighton and Crossgar's Rose Boyd, was favourite to win.
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.
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.