HURRICANE Fly won an extraordinary 18th Grade One race when superbly defending his title in a star-studded renewal of the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old (11-10 favourite) expertly lowered the colours of Our Conor and Jezki, two of Ireland’s leading hurdlers, with another ruthless display under Ruby Walsh. Hurricane Fly was roundly cut in the betting for the Champion Hurdle – a race he regained so convincingly in the spring – at the Cheltenham Festival next March.
Jezki (15-8) fared best of the young pretenders when finishing a slightly unlucky second in the five-runner Grade One over two miles.
Laudable veteran Captain Cee Bee set a fierce pace under Mark Walsh, but he was unable to maintain such a rapid tempo and weakened two flights from home. Hurricane Fly, who did not impress many when victorious in Punchestown’s Morgiana Hurdle on his seasonal bow, was at the back of the field for most of the journey before he slalomed into contention late in the piece.
Mullins’ ace jumped the last a fraction behind Our Conor, who along with Captain Cee Bee had earlier squeezed Jezki for room approaching the final flight. Whereas Our Conor did not have much more to give, Jezki stayed on stoutly for jockey Tony McCoy.
Hurricane Fly was hardly knocked off his stride, though, and maintained a zesty gallop to ease two and a half lengths clear for another landmark win.
Mullins said: “It was a hugely tactical race and Ruby was very cool on him. At one stage I thought the leader (Captain Cee Bee) had got away in front, and Ruby had to quicken up a bit sooner than he would have liked to.
“He’ll be back here at the end of January (Irish Champion Hurdle) and then it will be Cheltenham. He’s coming along and is going to improve again. He’s a fantastic horse and a horse of a generation.”
Carlingford Lough could head straight for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival following his dramatic defeat of Morning Assembly in the Topaz Novice Chase at Leopardstown. The John Kiely-trained seven-year-old forged clear of the 11-8 favourite along the run-in to provide McCoy with another Grade One success.
Carlingford Lough (5-1) emerged from the chasing pack after the last and threw down a sustained effort which yielded a length-and-a-half verdict at the line.
Meanwhile. trainer Nicky Henderson has not ruled out running Sprinter Sacre again this season after the superstar’s heart problem righted itself. The brilliant seven-year-old was found to be suffering from an irregular heartbeat after he was pulled up by Barry Geraghty on his seasonal return in Friday’s Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.
Sprinter Sacre returned to Henderson’s Seven Barrows base on Friday night but was sent to Newmarket for assessment by Celia Marr, a specialist in equine internal medicine and cardiology, on Saturday. Marr confirmed the original diagnosis of atrial fibrillation and decided to give the horse time to see if his heartbeat regulated itself.
Henderson said: “The good thing is that the fact it has self-righted means we don’t have to go into the process of using any drugs. It would be speculation (to say he won’t run again this season).
“We’re talking about cantering him again on Friday, so you wouldn’t rule out training him again this season. It’s got to be a step at a time with him and we will know more in the coming weeks.”