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Will the Hurricane be Blown Out?
01/03/12

National Hunt enthusiasts expect, nay demand, a thrilling finish to each of the big races at the Cheltenham Festival, yet up to the end of January, all we were hoping was that Hurricane Fly at least returned this March to defend his Champion Hurdle crown. We could worry about potential opponents later.

Hurricane Fly
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Hurricane Fly

Then it was sighs of relief all round as Willie Mullins unleashed him on an expectant Leopardstown crowd in testing conditions under Ruby Walsh. Never mind that he was a stone superior on the ratings to his nearest rival, stablemate Thousand Stars, the fact that he turned up and sluiced home as though he'd never been away was enough for now. People searching for tips for 2012 Cheltenham need to remember this.

But then reality set in and it was starting to look as though they might as well just hand over the prize now, given the lack of opposition capable of making him at least work for his pay.

Then suddenly, a light in the gloom, not once but twice, has threatened to turn the Champion Hurdle into, yes, a race. First we had the sight of Ruby Walsh ironically riding what could turn out to be the biggest threat to the Fly in the shape of Zarkandar in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. How Ruby got out of a pocket only he will know, but by luck or design, somehow last year's Triumph Hurdle winner was extricated to get up and prevail.

Trainer Paul Nicholls is playing his cards close to his chest, telling all and sundry that he has a stone to find, but make no mistake, jockey Daryl Jacob will have one hell of a ride on the day and the Betfair Cheltenham 2012 betting reflects this.

Then there's the forgotten horse Binocular who at one time threatened to rule the roost for years to come. A beaten favourite in the 2009 renewal, he duly went one better the following year after a will he, won't he turn up scenario.

Denied a run 12 months ago due to a medical problem, his effortless victory over old foe Celestial Halo at Wincanton shows him back to his best, and all in all we have the makings of a race at last.


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