Fly takes wing in racecourse gallop


They say the man on top of the horse seldom has a reliable opinion of its chances.

This reputation was corroborated, curiously enough, by one of the owners recently disqualified for 14 years after being found guilty of a conspiracy with riders to lay horses – he described jockeys as "the worst tipsters ever".

These slanderous views, quite rightly, are not shared by the betting public. Ruby Walsh told the world that he would love to be permitted some of the 11-4 offered against Hurricane Fly for Cheltenham after he again failed to surface at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting. Sadly, the champion hurdler has now blown his cover, in a gallop at the same track on Thursday, and is no better than 9-4 to retain his crown in March. But you only had to hear the genuinely wistful tones in his jockey's voice, as he urged punters not to lose faith, to know that 9-4 is probably a fairly sensational price, too.

Ordinarily, you could see why the bookmakers might want to "get" a horse whose trainer had admitted that he would readily entertain going to Cheltenham first time out. But there is nothing ordinary about the trainer in question, who has produced Quevega to win at three consecutive Festivals with an aggregate of one run beforehand.

As it is, Willie Mullins now expects Hurricane Fly to reappear at Leopardstown on 29 January. This is the best champion since Istabraq, and nobody seems to have any problem with the fact that two of the three next in the betting are themselves yet to run this season. Spirit Son and Zarkandar may have to come up with something pretty extraordinary to stop the champion starting much shorter than 9-4 on the day.