Cheltenham: Victory to Victoire, while Fly is not yet ready to be written off


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The Independent Online

Garde La Victoire and Vaniteux emerged as two exciting new stars at Cheltenham on Sunday when fighting out the finish of the Greatwood Hurdle, the former completing a sensational weekend for trainer Philip Hobbs and jockey Richard Johnson.

But over at Punchestown, Hurricane Fly showed there was more than a little life in the old dog yet when beating new champion Jezki to claim a third successive Morgiana Hurdle.

The death of Irish racing legend Dessie Hughes cast a long shadow over Sunday's proceedings and Ruby Walsh was downbeat as he described this latest in a long line of impressive Hurricane Fly feats. But the jockey nevertheless derived considerable pleasure from this glorious comeback.

“I know how quickly people can write off the great horses because they did that with Kauto Star and he came back more times than Muhammad Ali. But form is temporary, class is permanent,” Walsh said. “It’s hard to get excited and be jumping up and down – this is a sad day for racing when all’s said and done – but this is a wonderful horse.”

Certainly the bookies believed Hurricane Fly’s best days were behind him, but they have quickly revised that opinion and he has been cut to 16-1 for a third Champion Hurdle triumph after trading as high as 40-1, while Jezki has been eased to 6-1.

Small fields and steadily run races have been meat and drink for Hurricane Fly down the years – more than half his 20 career Grade One victories have been against four rivals or fewer. But this was a properly run race, thanks to the trailblazing Little King Robin, and the winner needed stamina as well as his customary turn of foot to take care of Jezki and make the score 3-2 in their own personal battle.

Vaniteux is Nicky Henderson’s new Champion Hurdle hope now that My Tent Or Yours is sidelined and he ran a most promising race under top weight at Cheltenham.

But the weekend belonged to Hobbs and Johnson. Garde La Victoire fought all the way to the line to record their sixth win together at the three-day Open meeting.

There is a distinct pattern to Hobbs and this race. Four years ago he won it with Menorah, four years before that with Detroit City and four years before that with Rooster Booster, the last horse to do the Greatwood Hurdle-Champion Hurdle double.

Garde La Victoire was almost pulled out because of the testing ground and the race did not pan out tactically as planned, but it all came good in the end for the Minehead team. “We’ve been living the dream,” said Johnson.

A minute’s silence was observed before  racing at Punchestown and  Cheltenham, where Hughes enjoyed so much Festival success, first as a rider (he won the Gold Cup on Davy Lad and the Champion Hurdle on Monksfield) and then as a trainer with such as the dual Champion Hurdler Hardy Eustace. Much loved and admired throughout the racing world, Hughes, who was 71, is survived by his wife Eileen, daughter Sandra and son Richard, whom he  mentored to win three  English Flat jockey titles. 

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