The statistics will show that Hurricane Fly won the 2015 Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown for a record-breaking fifth time, eclipsing the performances of the legendary Istabraq, and also won his tenth race from as many starts at the racecourse. The 11 year old racehorse is now being aimed at another tilt at claiming the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle in March and few will argue against the Irish horse regaining the crown.
Sunday’s feature race in at Leopardstown was a repeat of many showdowns this season between the Willie Mullins trained Hurricane Fly and the 2014 Champion Hurdle victor Jezki, from the Jessica Harrington stable. As with previous clashes this winter, it was the ‘Fly who emerged victorious with Jezki relegated to third place by Arctic Fire due to a mistake at the final hurdle.
The pair will clash again at Cheltenham but connections will be aware that the ground in England is usually drier than encountered in Ireland, a factor which was blamed for Hurricane Fly only finishing fourth in 2014 Champion Hurdle and Jezki also beat his rival in Racing Post Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in April on good to yielding ground.
Hurricane Fly reserves his best form for soft going which has been prevalent in Ireland for much of this winter as this surface tends to blunt the speed of his younger opponents. The Willie Mullins horse is also unbeaten at Leopardstown on a track which is much easier than the undulations of Cheltenham.
Mullins will also be entering the younger Faugheen for the event in March and the unbeaten seven year old has yet to be really tested on a racecourse. His comfortable win in Neptune Investments Novices Hurdle at the Festival meeting last year proved to onlookers that he has stamina, speed and the ability to handle both the Cheltenham track and a quicker surface.
The Irish horses will be opposed at Cheltenham by the Nigel Twiston-Davies trained The New One who was considered an unlucky third in the 2014 Champion Hurdle behind Jezki and My Tent Our Yours. The New One has remained unbeaten in five races since that day but does not impress in the same manner as current favourite Faugheen and produced a very workmanlike performance in just beating Bertimont at Haydock this month in heavy ground.
It may be that The New One is the type of animal capable of winning races and no more, whereas Faugheen has still to prove that he can quicken and battle in a true championship race.
Come the Champion Hurdle in March, both horses will face the veteran Hurricane Fly who has proved in recent months that he is not prepared to be upstaged by the younger generation. Ground conditions may be the deciding factor at Cheltenham but it is expected that whoever emerges as the winner of the prestigious hurdle race will be crowned a worthy champion.