Updated: Sunday, 26 Jan 2014 16:06 | Comments
Hurricane Fly repelled the strong challenge of Our Conor to win a fourth consecutive BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, equalling the record of the great Istabraq.
The Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old was the 4-7 favourite to secure his 19th Grade One triumph and travelled with his usual zest in the hands of Ruby Walsh.
He quickened up to lead approaching the final flight, but Our Conor threw down a serious challenge.
The two fought out a pulsating finish, but Hurricane Fly was going away again in the closing strides under a jubilant Walsh.
Hurricane Fly had comfortably beaten Our Conor and Jezki in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, but connections of the latter pair had reasons to believe they could possibly bridge the gap this time.
As he had done last month, admirable veteran Captain Cee Bee took the four runners along, with Hurricane Fly his closest pursuer, ahead of Our Conor and the free-going Jezki.
Jezki was the first of the three main protagonists to come under pressure in the hands of Tony McCoy, but Walsh and Our Conor’s rider Danny Mullins appeared confident as they straightened up for home.
There was little to choose between the duo jumping the final flight and, just for a moment, it looked like Dessie Hughes’ charge might be getting on top.
But Hurricane Fly, who suffered an injury scare earlier in the week with a bruised foot, roared back and was a length and a half to the good at the line – even though he did not jump the last cleanly.
Captain Cee Bee stuck to his guns to ensure fellow JP McManus-owned runner Jezki finished last of the four, albeit beaten little over three lengths.
It was an eighth victory from as many starts at Leopardstown for Hurricane Fly.
“He wasn’t great at the last, but when I got serious with him he found plenty” – Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly
Walsh said: “I just rode the race as I found it.
“In fairness to Hurricane, he quickened up well. He wasn’t great at the last, but when I got serious with him he found plenty.
“Stamina was never going to be an issue with him.”
Mullins said: “That was a huge relief. I have huge respect for the horse to do what he did, coming off the bit of work he did during the week.
“If he had been an ordinary horse he wouldn’t have run today. It was his worst bit of work ever.
“I was so disappointed coming off the gallops. I was saying to myself, ‘Is the dream over with him and has he had enough?’
“Thankfully we found he had a bruised foot. He seemed fine the next morning and he’s been fine since.
“We had to run and take our chance. We did all the tests on him and everything was coming back right.
“These races only come around once a year. I would have liked to have had another week with him.
“I thought when Our Conor came upsides him at the last he was beat.
“It was the first time he’s ever missed the last and I was thinking to myself, ‘There’s that bad bit of work’, but he showed his guts and he battled back.
“For the horse to come here with a bad prep and win that I’m very happy with where I’m at with him.”
Our Conor’s owner Barry Connell is looking forward to watching his charge renew rivalry with Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham in March.
He said: “He probably settled a bit better than he did the first time (in the Ryanair Hurdle).
“He was probably the last off the bridle and he travelled like a dream, but we got outbattled.
“All credit to Hurricane Fly – this is his backyard and he’s unbeaten here. For a young horse to run him so close we couldn’t be more delighted.
“We’d like to think there is more improvement from our horse.
“He should get a bit closer at Cheltenham.”