He might have taken his total to 14 wins from his last 15 races when scoring on his seasonal return at Punchestown in mid-November, but reigning dual champion hurdler Hurricane Fly failed to impress many observers in the racing betting world as he set out on the quest for a third title at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Irish champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins had made no secret of the fact that he expected the nine-year-old to come on for his first outing of the season, but such is the expectation surrounding Hurricane Fly that there were some who felt his length-and-a-quarter success over Marito suggested that the great horse might find things much tougher this term than in recent seasons.
Ridden as usual by Ruby Walsh, the gelded son of Montjeu moved into the lead approaching the final flight of the Grade 1 StanJames.com Morgiana Hurdle, but then had to be kept up to his work on the run-in to hold the determined effort of the runner-up, a horse rated some 37lbs his inferior but who was meeting the champion at level weights.
With a number of rising stars in the two-mile hurdles division such as The New One, My Tent or Yours, Our Conor, and Jezki amongst others, the suggestion is that the younger horses could be a big threat to Hurricane Fly on March 11.
Mullins is expecting a better performance from his stable star at Leopardstown on December 29 in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle, a race he has won twice before, and has been at pains to remind racing live betting fans that he is training his horse to peak for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
That doesn’t mean he won’t be winning again before the big race having last time out smashed the world record as he took his personal tally of Grade 1 successes to a remarkable 17.