2013; the year that Hurricane Fly returned from a year of disappointing, uncharacteristic performances to become the first horse to regain their Champion Hurdle crown since 1975, instigating elation and jubilation amongst the Irish masses.
An odds-on favourite to defend his title in 2012, Hurricane Fly appeared out of sorts n his defence last year, seemingly lacking a finishing effort after jumping the final hurdle in touch with his rivals. However, despite a few moments of concern for Messrs Walsh and Mullins, Hurricane Fly looked back to his imperious best with an exceptional turn of foot contributing to an irrepressible finishing effort, seeing 'Da Fly' pull away for a facile three length success from defending Champion, Rock on Ruby.
Fitted with blinkers for the first time, Rock On Ruby surprised many by taking things up at the head of affairs as the tapes rose. Comfortably powering away at a fast pace, Rock On Ruby looked to be pushing his rivals out of their comfort zones one by one, with Hurricane Fly included.
As the runners angled out of the back stretch on their final circuit, Walsh began to nudge away at the Irish sensation, Hurricane Fly, and looked to be struggling to go the pace set by Noel Fehily aboard Rock On Ruby. However, as the likes of Countrywide Flame and Zarkandar began to loom boldly on the outside of the field, Walsh and Hurricane Fly began to come back on the bridle and loop he field n the wide outside.
By the time Rock On Ruby led the Champion Hurdle field into the stretch, the smooth-travelling Hurricane Fly looked poised to regain his crown. Jumping the final flight with a jump that'd provoke memories of 2011, Hurricane Fly jumped to the lead and powered up the hill to regain his crown and take the title back to Ireland for Willie Mullins.
“It’s brilliant. I can’t say I was ever overly confident - I’ve been confident for the past three weeks - but from the word go he was never travelling like he can do and he made a few mistakes. They were going a bit quick for me,” stated jockey, Ruby Walsh, who has now partnered Hurricane Fly for nine of his unimaginable tally of fifteen Grade 1 victories.
"What he has along with all the class, is an unbelievably big heart for a small horse and he is as tough as nails. He has never been short of stamina or guts and he jumped the last when I needed one today.
"He didn't spark last year when he lost his title and people can knock the horse all they like but this is his 15th Grade One victory and he's come back again. I don't see why he couldn't come back here again as a ten year old next year and be competitive."
Unbeaten since losing his Champion Hurdle title in 2012, Hurricane Fly will now look to curtail his season at the Punchestown Festival at the end of April.
Hurricane Fly is 5-1 to defend his crown next season at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival.
Photo Courtesy of Emma-Louise Kerwin (Goodtosoft.co.uk)