Jezki dazed by mighty Hurricane
Hurricane Fly once again brought the house down at his beloved Leopardstown after seeing off old foe Jezki to clinch a fourth victory in the Ryanair Hurdle.
Plenty felt Willie Mullins' incredible hurdler was destined for an honourable retirement after he was left trailing in Jezki's wake at Cheltenham and Punchestown last spring, but he has returned this term seemingly with a point to prove.
After turning the tables on Jessica Harrington's Champion Hurdle hero in last month's Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, Hurricane Fly was a 5-6 favourite for his annual festive challenge, seeking a ninth course win from as many starts.
Ably supported by a couple of fellow JP McManus-owned runners in Plinth and Alderwood, Jezki was given the perfect tow into the race and gradually warmed to the task.
As the pacesetters faltered, Tony McCoy allowed Jezki to run to the lead rounding the home turn, with Ruby Walsh in his slipstream.
The two jumped the final flight virtually as one, but it was Hurricane Fly who dug deepest to secure a remarkable 21st Grade One victory by half a length.
Mullins said: "I think he's the best anyone has ever trained over jumps. I'll never have another horse like him. He's unique.
"There is a fantastic atmosphere here and it was a fantastic race just to watch.
"When he got over the last he put his ears back and no horse I've ever seen can battle like him.
"Ruby said he jumped a shadow at the first and landed on it. He had a bit of gorse stuck in his girth coming back in which must have been uncomfortable for him.
"He didn't look happy going away on the bend from the stands and it took him until about the mile to warm up.
"We expected Jezki to be better but we knew we were better as well. There is not much between them."
Although stablemate Faugheen is the ante-post Champion Hurdle favourite for the Cheltenham showpiece in March, Mullins said: "To me, he's our top Champion Hurdle horse - he has the ratings.
"He (Faugheen) looks the one coming up, but he's (Hurricane Fly) doing it.
"We're always trying to find the next one coming along but I don't think I have anything like him.
"Faugheen is seven from seven but he has a long way to go. Hopefully we find another one but he's unique."
Mullins said Hurricane Fly is likely to bid for a remarkable fifth victory in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle back at Leopardstown on January 25.
The winner's stable companion, Arctic Fire, was not far behind the big two in third.
"Arctic Fire ran an absolute cracker. We always thought he was a Champion Hurdle horse but he's disappointed on his last couple of runs and today was his last chance," said Mullins.
"It's the first time he's shown on the racecourse what he shows at home. The two horses will probably come back here for the Irish Champion Hurdle."
The score now stands at four-two in favour of Hurricane Fly in the battles with Jezki, but trainer Jessica Harrington hopes that deficit will be cut at Cheltenham.
She said: "He lost nothing in defeat.
"He settled great for AP (McCoy) and he jumped brilliantly - there are no excuses.
"Hurricane Fly is just very, very hard to beat around here.
"Jezki was definitely more relaxed. He jumped well and dead straight and, from that point of view, everything went great.
"They went at it hammer and tongs from when the time they turned in and they both jumped the last well, Hurricane Fly was just marginally quicker away from it than Jezki.
"He seemed to be fine after the race so, all being well, we'll head on to Cheltenham and hope the hill will make a little bit of a difference."