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Hurricane force needed at Leopardstown

By Richard Forristal

Nearly seven years and 28 runs after making a successful Irish debut at Punchestown, Ulster-owned Hurricane Fly will bid to cement his place among the pantheon of hurdling greats by securing an unprecedented fifth Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown tomorrow.

Willie Mullins' diminutive star's vulnerability at Cheltenham might have conspired to prevent him from capturing the broader public imagination in the way that Istabraq did, but there can be no denying that he is a rare talent whose ferocious will to win has emerged as his most defining trait.

It was that dogged determination that saw him memorably out-battle Down Royal hero Jezki to plunder a 21st Grade One triumph at Christmas, and he will now touch gloves with JP McManus's latest elite two-miler for a seventh time.

The score stands four-two in favour of the 11-year-old, so it is maybe no surprise that he is odds-on to stretch his unbeaten record at the Foxrock venue to a perfect 10 in the €110,000 BHP Insurances-sponsored showpiece.

Few would begrudge Hurricane Fly - owned by Rose Boyd from Crossgar and Belfast's George Creighton - sole ownership of the Irish Champion Hurdle record that he shares with Istabraq, but the reigning Cotswolds hero pushed him close last time, so this will be no formality for his nemesis.

In fact, Jezki appeals as nap material to sign off for Cheltenham on a high.

With the incomparable Ruby Walsh riding Fly and Ulster great AP McCoy pulling the strings on Jezki, it promises to be another thrilling spectacle, and the same revered duo will also be in the thick of what promises to be an utterly compelling edition of the Arkle Novices Chase.

Walsh is aboard Mullins' insatiable front-runner Un De Sceaux, with McCoy riding Gilgamboa.

Throw Gordon Elliott's giant-slaying Clarcam into the mix under the excellent Bryan Cooper, and it just might be the best three-runner race we'll see all year.

Larne trainer Stuart Crawford, who kept his great run of form going with a double at Ayr yesterday, has a crack at the big Skybet Chase at Doncaster today with Yes Tom.

Crawford was on target at Ayr with Fine Rightly and Baby Bach, ridden respectively by Davy Russell and Steven Crawford, the trainer's brother.

In the big race at Cheltenham - the Betbright Cup Chase - trainer Oliver Sherwood has high hopes for Many Clouds.

"He's quite cocky when he's in his work, he thinks he's King Kong and his jumping and schooling at home have been electric," Sherwood said.

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