Walsh backs ‘Fly’ to make history

RUBY Walsh has already ridden one “horse of a lifetime” in Kauto Star. Now he has afforded similar status to Hurricane Fly after the reigning Champion Hurdle hero landed an 18th Group One race – a new world record.

Hurricane Fly ridden by Ruby Walsh

Walsh and Willie Mullins, trainer of ‘The Fly’ were speaking after their horse’s classy victory in Leopardstown’s Ryanair Hurdle on Sunday over young pretenders like AP McCoy’s fast-finishing Jezki and runaway JCB Triumph Hurdle winner Our Conor.

The winner of his last eight starts – Hurricane Fly’s last defeat came at the hands of Rock On Ruby in the 2012 Champion Hurdle – this will be the horse to beat when Britain and Ireland’s best hurdlers clash at Cheltenham next March.

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Hurricane Fly had only been workmanlike when he won his comeback race at Punchestown last month to record his 17th Group One win, beating the record previously held by American horse John Henry and the aforementioned Kauto Star.

Yet the horse, 10 tomorrow, showed his old sparkle at the weekend as he recorded his 22nd win from 32 starts and Walsh said: “He was very impressive.

“He travelled beautifully and quickened up impressively. He has everything – speed, stamina, he jumps brilliantly.

“It’s a privilege to ride him. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of horse. He’s a very, very good horse and I love riding him.”

Ominously from the point of view of the British challengers headed by The New One for the Twiston-Davies team, Mullins is convinced that his stable star will be even sharper in March.

Hurricane Fly will return to Leopardstown next month for the Irish Champion Hurdle before attempting to become a three-time winner of the Stan James Champion Hurdle following his successes in 2011 and last March.

Only five horses – Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq – have achieved this feat since the race’s inaugural running in 1927.

“He seems fine,” said Ireland’s champion jumps trainer. “It was a very tactical race and obviously Jezki got into trouble, Our Conor got a very clear run and our fella had way more tactical speed than the two of them. We know he stays, so I’m very happy with the position at the moment.

“I’ve easily got 5lb to work on. I’ve been saying this fella is stronger than he ever was before.

“It’s extraordinary for a horse his age and I think I’ve got plenty left. I’ve been saying that all along and I’m happy with that.

“He was beaten at Cheltenham one year when things didn’t go right for us, but every other time he’s been fine.

“I just think the fact he disappointed the year he did that sticks in people’s memories. The Irish Champion and then Cheltenham is the plan.”

Cue Card will head straight to Cheltenham without a prep run after his bold second to Silviniaco Conti in the William Hill King George VI Chase.

Trainer Colin Tizzard and his jockey son Joe are keeping their options open – the horse will hold entries in the Betfred Gold Cup, Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase, which he won last March.

There are doubts whether Cue Card will stay the three-and-a-quarter mile Gold Cup trip while the two-mile Champion Chase could become an enticing proposition if Nicky Henderson’s Sprinter Sacre does not recover in time from his irregular heartbeat.

Despite Cue Card surrendering a winning lead between the final two fences at Kempton, Tizzard junior said: “He still run an absolute blinder. I look forward to taking on Silviniaco Conti on good ground.”

Trainer Dan Skelton has resisted the urge to run his Ascot hero Willow’s Saviour in the 32Red Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday.

However, The Liquidator could take his chance for David Pipe and jockey Tom Scudamore 
after breezing home in Grade Two company at Cheltenham last time.

Outbacker will bid to give Middleham trainer Mark Johnston a career best 217th winner in the calendar year when lining up at Lingfield today.

After the defeats of King Of The Wolds and Oscar Rock, 
Urban Hymn’s victory at Haydock yesterday for the Calder family helped to further cement their burgeoning relationship with Malton trainer Malcolm Jefferson and jockey Brian Hughes.