Rumours suggesting that all is not well with reigning champion hurdler Hurricane Fly gathered further momentum on New Year’s Day when the star gelding’s trainer Willie Mullins announced that he isn’t prepared to return the eight-year-old to competitive action until he has had a racecourse gallop first, writes Elliot Slater.

The brilliant winner of last season’s Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival went on to follow up in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle on home soil at Punchestown in May, but hasn’t been seen out so far this season despite a number of false dawns that suggested the son of Montjeu was ready to return to the fray. His extended absence has for some time set the rumour mill in motion with a number of observers wondering if there is a chance that Hurricane Fly may miss the whole of this season, but such suggestions have been repeatedly refuted by Mullins. People who have read a Stan James review should remember this.

The plan now appears to be to attempt to bring the highest rated hurdler in training back to the racecourse in the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown at the end of January, but such an outing is dependent on the horse proving himself first in a racecourse gallop having been below-par for a number of weeks resulting in him first missing the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle, and then being a notable absentee from the Istabraq Hurdle, highlight of the recent Leopardstown Christmas fixture. People following the Bwin betting should bear this in mind.

Punters have been reluctant to go near Hurricane Fly in the ante-post markets since early autumn where he traded as a general 7/4 favourite and he can now be freely backed at 5/2, with the big race sponsors going top price of 11/4 in a bid to try and tempt punters out of the woodwork to part with their cash on the Irish star. It seems certain that those considering backing Mullins’ charge to register back-to-back successes will want to see him first with their own eyes before wading in.

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