Dual Cheltenham Festival Champion Hurdler. 5 time Irish Champion Hurdler. Unbeaten in 10 starts at Leopardstown. A record breaking 22 Grade 1 victories. 24 victories from 32 career starts over timber.
As the numbers became greater, so did the reputation of Willie Mullins crack 2 miler. It’s safe to say many pints of Guinness have been both raised and dispatched in honour of the terrier like son of Montjeu, who’s reign of supremacy certainly didn’t come without drama.
The former French flat performer took to hurdling the the proverbial duck to water, only tasting defeat once in 6 outings in his debut season. That defeat came on his return to France when contesting the Grade 1 Prix Alain du Breil and finishing second. One place and 2 lengths ahead of stablemate and subsequent 6 time Cheltenham Festival winning wonder mare Quevega. It’s fair to say the form worked out pretty well.
Niggly injuries and small setbacks plagued the lightning quick leaper in his early days, preventing the Jewell in Closutton’s crown from displaying his limitless raw ability on the biggest stage of all – the Cheltenham Festival. Many even crabbed the future Champion for beating the same horses time after time in Ireland, but as the old adage goes – you can on beat what is put in front of you.
2011 saw the coronation of a new National Hunt King. Willie Mullins delivered his superstar to Prestbury Park in A1 condition and Hurricane Fly did the rest. A ding dong battle up the hill with the brave Peddlers Cross was met by an Irish roar of the like normally reserved for a St. Patricks Day winner. Now the British knew what those from the Emerald Isle had learnt long before. A Champion had been born.
However as previously intimated, the path to supremacy didn’t always run smooth for the pride of Ireland, and once again small setbacks curtailed any plans the master of Closutton had for his Champion Hurdler in the opening encounters of the 2011/12 season. And despite a breathtaking victory in the Irish Champion Hurdle on his belated reappearance in January, the King lost his crown in the Cotswolds come march.
Many were quick to write off the floundering Fly, and a below par performance at the Punchestown Festival, albeit it in victory, did little to dispel to doubters who feared the Fly had flown his best races and had finally hit the ceiling of what until then had appeared to be a limitless clear blue sky.
Convinced the apple of his eye had simply not been right in the 2011/12 campaign, Willie Mullins made sure Hurricane Fly was ready to return to action early in the Autumn, with the former Champ landing the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown following the late departure of the talented and sadly much missed Go Native. A second Irish Champion Hurdle success arrived in January, but the big test was to come at Prestbury Park in March, the Champion wanted his crown back.
It’s fair to say the Fly gave his legion of devout followers a fair few heart thumping moments as Ruby shook the reigns at his trusty companion going down the back. But the sight of the the 2011 hero coming back on the bridle before turning for home truly was poetry in motion. Sprinting clear of the reigning champ Rock On Ruby up the hill, Hurricane Fly once again took his seat at the head of the hurdling division. Long live the King!
Whist that proved to be Hurricane Fly’s second and final Champion Hurdle success, the champ would go on to register 7 more victories and place fourth and third respectively in the next to editions of Cheltenham’s Championship 2 mile hurdle. And whilst it’s great to see older horses still enjoying themselves on the racetrack, it was a relief to many to see the Fly retired to the Irish National Stud after finishing sixth in the French Champion Hurdle of 2015. A well earned retirement for a record breaking King of the racecourse.
Hurricane Fly simply had it all. The ability to glide over hurdles, the speed to put his opponents in trouble, the grit and determination to put his head down and fight and the aura of a Champion every time he set foot on a racetrack.
Opponents such as Solwhit, Peddlers Cross, Thousand Stars, Rock On Ruby, Jezki, Our Conor and many more besides fell at the sword of Willie Mullins’ pride and joy during a career that spanned 9 magical seasons. And it’s safe to say the name Hurricane Fly will go down in history not only for his Grade 1 record, but also his sheer brilliance.
Article by Stuart Williams