Irish Eyes: Let Fly!
Irish Eyes previews the action and picks out the best bets from Ryanair Hurdle day at Leopardstown.
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After three days of top-class action, Leopardstown has most definitely saved the best for last in the form of the Ryanair Hurdle.
Not many of us ever thought we would see the day where we could back Hurricane Fly at odds-against in an Irish Grade One - in fact he has started at odds-on for all 10 of his Irish starts, ever since he won this race for the very first time in 2010.
Of course, his price is testament to the quality of opposition that he faces on this occasion including Our Conor, a deeply impressive winner of last season's Triumph and four-time Grade One winner, Jezki.
Throw in the triple-Grade One winner Thousand Stars and dual top-notch scorer Captain Cee Bee and you have the best field seen for an Irish hurdle race in many years.
With all due respect to The New One and My Tent Or Yours, who now find themselves at the head of the Champion Hurdle market, this Ryanair Hurdle is a genuine Champion Hurdle trial. In fact, it is one of the most eagerly-awaited contests of the Christmas period.
On to the selection! Most punters will agree that Our Conor could be anything but he is a newcomer to this level and has yet to be tested outside his own age group, so until we see him perform at this level, we won't know for sure just how good he actually is. If he can win, we will follow him all the way to Cheltenahm but for now, we value form over potential.
Jezki has recently proven himself in open company since leaving the novice ranks. However, his form appears similar to that of The New One and My Tent Or Yours - it's grand but it simply doesn't compare to the very best.
That brings us nicely to the very best, namely Hurricane Fly.
Until he is beaten, he remains the champion. Granted, he was less than impressive in his recent record-breaking 17th Grade One win in the Morgiana.
As a result, many have been quick to point to that run as an example of 'the changing of the guard' with regards to the leading hurdler in these islands. That sort of talk, quite frankly, is well wide of the mark.
The Morgiana was merely the first run in a six-month campaign that will hopefully culminate in a fifth successive Rabobank Champion Hurdle victory at Punchestown next May.
Why on earth would he be primed to put up an impressive performance in November? It's akin to asking an athlete to peak months before the Olympics - it just doesn't make any sense. Prior to that reappearance, Willie Mullins went on record as having said that Hurricane Fly returned from his summer break much bigger than ever before and consequently will take a lot more 'getting fit'.
He could not have been more open with everyone. Having seen Hurricane Fly at Punchestown in November, there was no mistaking the fact there was a lot more 'fine tuning' to be done before he was anywhere near fully fit.
Nevertheless, he got the job done on the day. He has since impressed in his work at home and come on significantly for the run. Of course, he will still not be at fever pitch in December but he will strip much fitter for the Ryanair.
Some experts will suggest the Mullins team is struggling for form after a series of reverses earlier this week. That is simply not true. Have they been out of luck? No doubt about it. Have they been out of form? Certainly not.
Poor Analifet went off an odds-on shot but she pulled up injured. Champagne Fever looked set to win before a mistake at the second last put paid to his chances. Renetti was about to hack up in Limerick but for a fall at the last and while Felix Yonger got turned over at Limerick, Mullins still supplied the first three home.
Add to that wins for the likes of Clondaw Court, Smashing, Rockyaboya, as well as four more victories on Saturday, and you have a trainer that is certainly not out of form.
It is apt that as the year end approaches, Hurricane Fly must surely be this column's strongest selection of 2013 at the prices available.