Fantastic Fly earns a high five
Ulster-owned Hurricane Fly lit up his beloved Leopardstown with an electrifying and unprecedented fifth successive triumph in the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle yesterday.
Willie Mullins' brilliant 11-year-old - owned by Rose Boyd from Crossgar and Belfast's George Creighton - wasn't hurdling fluently as his old foe Jezki dictated the tempo under Ulster great Tony McCoy, but history has taught us that he has a fine habit of finding most when the need is greatest.
Ruby Walsh coaxed him along without panicking. The wily old maestro up top was stoking the fire without pouring on the coal, but when he began shovelling, the response was stirring. The flame still burns bright.
Hurricane Fly and Down Royal Festival hero Jezki approached the final flight upsides, and a blunder there finished the latter, though in reality, it affected only the margin of victory.
"That was fantastic, unbelievable," Mullins beamed afterwards. "We are just enjoying days like this with him now. Someone asked me coming down from the stands, was I sure he wasn't five? His performances are what you would expect of a younger horse.
"He has beaten the reigning English champion hurdler twice this season, and we'll look forward to Cheltenham with him now."
For a fifth time in seven encounters, Hurricane Fly was patently getting the better of Jezki, a point acknowledged by Jessica Harrington. "Tony said he was beaten going to the last," she admitted of the eventual third. "We're not good enough to beat Hurricane Fly here and that's it."
The 11/10 favourite came home clear of stable-mate Arctic Fire to surpass Istabraq as the most successful horse in the history of the €110,000 two-miler.
He was stretching his unbeaten record here to 10, taking his Grade One tally to a world record 22 and he returned to a hero's reception from his adoring fans.
Walsh threw his fists aloft as he entered the enclosure, a triumphant gesture that sent the crowd wild. For a horse that oozed such class in his youth, Hurricane Fly's tenacity has become his defining trait, and it was that courage that brought the house down.
"I was worried going down the back," Mullins said. "But in an instance like that, it means so much to have a mature rider like Ruby. He never panicked. When Ruby got stuck into him, he produced it. He keeps doing what needs to be done. If that's good enough for Cheltenham remains to be seen."
Hurricane Fly was slashed to as low as 5/1 from 12/1 for the March showpiece. With Mullins also responsible for the hot favourite Faugheen, Walsh faces the prospect of having to choose between his long-serving partner and a precocious young pretender.
"That's a decision I'll make about an hour after the declarations are made," the nine-time champion jockey said.
"This horse means a huge amount to me. I ride so many horses with potential, but for horses to go and deliver and repeat it - Kauto Star managed it, so did 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."