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Last Updated: 29/01/12 4:58pm
Hurricane Fly: Ultra impressive
Hurricane Fly didn't come off the bridle when winning the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday.
Willie Mullins' star (4-5 fav) had been absent since winning at Punchestown in May but oozed class throughout the race under Ruby Walsh.
Walsh pushed him into the lead from front-running stablemate Thousand Stars turning for home and was not hard pressed to saunter to a six and a half length victory.
Jessica Harrington's Oscars Well (8-1) ran his best race of the season to fill the runner-up spot, whilst the well-fancied Unaccompanied was outpaced before the home turn and could only finish fourth behind Thousand Stars.
Mullins said: "He completely surprised me. It must be as good a performance as he's ever produced.
"They went a right good gallop. Ruby said he wasn't travelling in the ground early on but once he put him in the race three out, he came alive.
"I was a bit anxious about the ground and he was very quiet beforehand, but maybe he's just maturing.
"Normally it takes two lads to lead him as he can be a bit tight.
"We had been worried before Cheltenham last year how he would handle everything, including the parade, but he went round like a handicapper today.
"I was a little concerned he would flop as my first two runners disappointed.
"I was surprised how fit he appeared. We'll keep a lid on him between now and Cheltenham."
The manner of victory predictably saw Hurricane Fly cut across the board to win back-to-back Stan James Champion Hurdles at Cheltenham in March.
The sponsors have him at 5-6 (from 7-4), Boylesports and Sky Bet go 4-5 whilst BetVictor offer 10-11 about Mullins' eight-year-old.
Coral are one of the few firms who don't have the reigning champion at odds-on, with the Barking firm offering even money about a repeat victory.
"It may have been a delayed reappearance for Hurricane Fly, but it was well worth waiting for, and having proved his wellbeing in emphatic fashion, he is now red-hot favourite for back-to-back Champion Hurdle wins," said spokesman David Stevens.