Super Fly proves Champion again
Hurricane Fly knuckled down in his inimitable fashion to clinch an historic fifth consecutive victory in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle.
Willie Mullins' incredible 11-year-old was bidding to make it 10 starts unbeaten at his beloved Leopardstown and claim a 22nd victory at Grade One level.
For much of the journey it appeared unlikely, however, with Ruby Walsh getting lower in the saddle in the back straight to keep the 11-10 favourite in touch.
With the pacemaking Plinth fading, last year's Champion Hurdle hero Jezki took over from the home turn, with Hurricane Fly responding to Walsh's urgings on the inside of the track.
The big two headed down to the final flight as one and Hurricane Fly appeared to be getting on top when Jezki blundered, handing his old rival the initiative.
To the delight of the packed grandstands, Hurricane Fly galloped all the way to the line to seal yet another momentous triumph.
His stable companion Arctic Fire came through to deny Jezki the runner-up spot.
Walsh said: "He didn't travel with the same fluidity as he has done in the past today, but I suppose when the going got a little bit tougher going to the second-last he started to pick up.
"When he rounded the bend and I got to AP (McCoy, on Jezki) I was thinking 'how much is he going to find?', but when I saw AP go for his whip I knew I had him covered.
"I was going as fast as I was able - as fast as he (Hurricane Fly) wanted to go, anyway. I was struggling.
"It was the outside track, we didn't go mad early and they stepped up down the back to draw the sting out of us. It was a testing race.
"When I got more aggressive with him, he started to pick up and when I got on to AP's tail, he stuck his head down like he always does."
Walsh is confident Hurricane Fly had Jezki's measure when the latter made his mistake.
He said: "He gave me a brilliant jump at the last. Obviously Jezki stepped into it and missed it and that probably enhanced the margin we won by, but he's an incredible horse.
"I jumped the last well and going on past performances, he wasn't going to shirk the issue from there home.
"I thought I had it. It was unfortunate Jezki made the mistake, as without Jezki you wouldn't have the race.
"He's come back here now and won five of these (Irish Champion Hurdles) and 22 Grade Ones, he's a pleasure to ride, he's a credit to Willie and the staff at Closutton, he's just a marvellous little horse.
"This horse means a huge amount to me. I ride so many horses with potential but for horses to go and deliver and to go and repeat it and deliver - Kauto (Star) managed it, Big Buck's, it takes iron horses to do it and that's what they are, they're incredible horses and I'm just very lucky to have come along at a time when these good horses are around."
Walsh now faces an agonising decision come whether to ride Hurricane Fly once more at Cheltenham in March or partner his stable companion and Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen, and an 11th hour call is likely.
He said: "When the two of them are working well three days before the race, I'll make it then (declaration time)."