Hurricane cooks up a Champion storm
Hurricane Fly gave Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh their first success in the Stan James Champion Hurdle with a hard-fought victory over Peddlers Cross at Cheltenham.
The two principals fought a mighty duel from just before the final flight, with the 11-4 favourite digging deep up the hill to take the spoils for Ireland.
Peddlers Cross was a gallant length and a quarter back in second for Donald McCain, with the Nicky Henderson-trained Oscar Whisky five lengths away third.
Walsh said: "He never settled really and ran keen, but we know he has the speed and class. He's shown the ability myself, Willie Mullins and Paul Townend always believed he had. He's a deserved champion and a right little horse.
"He's only small but he has a big heart and he needed it. I probably got there a fraction too soon, but he never gave me a chance early doors.
"I went close in this a few times - I've been second three times - but I suppose this was the best one I've ever had in the Champion Hurdle. It's great to get on him and great to deliver. It's what you work for."
Rather than exuding confidence beforehand, Mullins was just relieved to get Hurricane Fly to Cheltenham after missing the previous two Festivals following setbacks.
The trainer said: "We had no excuses, everything had gone right the whole year. It was just great to get here and the relief even when he left the parade ring was enormous.
"I just didn't want something stupid to happen coming here, a kick or a cough. He's got speed, stamina and he jumps. Today was the day. I am just delighted he got the chance to show what he can do. I didn't give Ruby any instructions, I said you know what to do, so just do it."
McCain said of Peddlers Cross: "I'm not a bad loser but I'm just gutted for the horse. He has just had the hardest race of his life, because that is the first time he has been beaten, but if there is a good way of getting beat that is it."