Flawless Fly set to pose test for Walsh’s loyalty

In yesterday’s contest, Jezki came to the front jumping the second-last after travelling more fluently than Hurricane Fly

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The Independent Online

Hurricane Fly again proved invulnerable at Leopardstown yesterday when gaining a  historic fifth victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle. The 11-year-old is now unbeaten in 10 starts at the course and leads the reigning Cheltenham champion Jezki 5-2 in their seven meetings after the  latter forfeited his chance at the final flight. Almost incidentally, Willie Mullins’ winner was gaining his 22nd Grade One success.

Yet so chronically undervalued is Hurricane Fly on the other side of the Irish Sea, even as twice winner of the Champion Hurdle, in 2011 and 2013, he is still only on a par with Jezki in this year’s market at around 6-1 to regain his crown and as long as 9-1 with Coral, who have his unbeaten stablemate Faugheen as odds-on favourite.

In yesterday’s contest, Jezki came to the front jumping the second-last after travelling more fluently than Hurricane Fly, only for the veteran to range alongside in trademark style on the run to the final flight. There the issue was settled when a serious blunder pitched Jezki down on his nose, letting his rival come home three and a half lengths clear of Arctic Fire, with Jezki four lengths away third.

The winning rider, Ruby Walsh, said: “This horse means a huge amount to me. I ride so many horses with potential but for horses to go and deliver and to go and repeat it and deliver – Kauto [Star] managed it, Big Buck’s, it takes iron horses to do it.”

But Hurricane Fly will not necessarily command Walsh’s loyalty come the Festival in March, when he will have to make a decision over Faugheen. “When the two of them are working well three days before the race, I’ll make it then,” Walsh said.

Jezki’s trainer, Jessica Harrington, conceded: “Tony [McCoy] said he was beaten going to the last. We’ve now got to go to Cheltenham in March and hope that the hill will make a difference.”

The Mullins team loosed a more elemental force when Un De Sceaux pulverised Clarcam and Gilgamboa in the Grade One Arkle Novice Chase. He is now no bigger than evens for the Arkle Trophy at the Festival. It is a measure of this relentless front-runner, unbeaten in 12 starts bar a fall on his chasing debut, that he remains as short as 8-1 for the Champion Hurdle, with some firms evidently prepared to leave nothing to chance.