Walsh: Hurricane Fly can do better still
Ruby Walsh does not believe Hurricane Fly has been seen at his very best on either of his previous two trips to the Cheltenham Festival.
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A narrow winner of the 2011 Champion Hurdle from Peddlers Cross, the nine-year-old was beaten into third by Rock On Ruby and Overturn when an odds-on favourite to defend his crown at Prestbury Park 12 months ago.
Walsh believes the fact he was made to work hard to win his final start of the campaign at the Punchestown Festival showed that Hurricane Fly was out of sorts last spring and he has looked much more like his old self so far this season, winning the Irish Champion Hurdle for the third successive year last month.
Speaking on Channel 4 Racing's The Morning Line, Walsh said: "Even when he won back at Punchestown he didn't have any of the pace that he has, the speed that he has, or even the enthusiasm. He was far too easy to settle, he was far too easy to hold.
"It was a case of making him go last year and that's not Hurricane Fly.
"When I look back it (last year's Champion Hurdle), when we went down the back I was just behind Zarkandar and I couldn't get by him. At that early stage I was flat out, so that spoke volumes to me.
"The year he beat Peddlers Cross we got quite compacted down the hill and I got into a battle with him.
"If that had been a truer-run race I think I'd have won further.
"I don't think we've seen the best of him (at Cheltenham). I hope not."
Although confident in the capabilities of his own mount, Walsh was respectful of the opposition in the hurdling crown.
"It's a good race. He still has Zarkandar and last year's champion Rock On Ruby to beat," said the jockey.
"Grandouet ran a cracker in the International Hurdle and surely will have improved for that run.
"It's by no means a foregone conclusion, but we have a great chance."
Walsh's other major hope on the opening day of the Festival is Hurricane Fly's incredible stable-companion Quevega, who goes for a remarkable fifth straight win in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle.
Just as she has done for the last three years, the nine-year-old will be making her first start of the season at Cheltenham.
Walsh reports the Willie Mullins-trained superstar to be in good shape at home.
"She seems well. She's in good old form," he said.
"She has her own way of doing things and Willie has a good handle on her and a good knack of training her.
"She seems in good order. She hasn't many miles on the clock, so there's no reason why she wouldn't be."