Hurricane Fly got the better of his old rival Jezki in a tremendous tactical battle for the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown this afternoon.
The McManus pair Plinth and Alderwood went straight to the front from King Of The Picts and Jezki, as the seven runners took the first flight.
There was little change in the order as the field headed to the fourth last hurdle, with Plinth still leading Alderwood. Jezki travelled well to their outer as King Of The PIcts came under pressure, while Tiger Roll and Hurricane Fly were poised in behind.
As Alderwood faded, Jezki joined Plinth at the home turn, with Hurricane Fly moving into third ahead of Arctic Fire. A few strides later and Plinth had given way, leaving Jezki in front of Hurricane Fly and as the two champions joined issue, they pulled clear, both jumping the last well, although Jezki was perhaps the better and had plenty of momentum going away.
However, Hurricane Fly showed all his old fire and fought back with great determination under Ruby Walsh, to edge out his old rival. Arctic Fire ran a monumental race to finish just a couple of lengths back in third to confirm a fantastic outcome for trainer Willie Mullins.
With Faugheen enhancing his Champion Hurdle credentials over Christmas, Mullins again looks to have a strong hand going into Cheltenham and the dual champion, rising 11 years of age, should not be discounted on this performance, which gave him a 4-2 advantage in head to heads with Jezki.
Afterwards Willie Mullins told At The Races that “He is our top Champion Hurdle horse” and that the horse had left him uneasy in the early stages, having jumped the first hurdle awkwardly and carried spruce around the course with him for much of the race, which surely left him uncomfortable. Even so, when push came to shove, Hurricane Fly’s will power got him home in front.