Hurricane Fly reclaims Champion Hurdle trophy
7:45am Wednesday 13th March 2013 in Sport
HURRICANE FLY became the first horse to regain the Champion Hurdle since Comedy Of Errors in 1975 when claiming the top prize on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The 2011 winner, ridden by Ruby Walsh, led after jumping the second last and dug deep on the run-in to score by two and a half lengths from last year’s winner Rock On Ruby, who ran another tremendous race in blinkers for the first time.
Countrywide Flame, a Festival winner in the Triumph Hurdle 12 month ago, and ridden by Cotswold-based jockey Denis O’Regan, was third.
Winning trainer Willie Mullins had had the ignominy of being bitten on the backside by the champion in his stable the previous day. It was a great first afternoon for the jockey-trainer team of Walsh and Mullins, the dominant force in Irish jumping, who also won with Champagne Fever and Quevega.
Champagne Fever attempted to make all the running in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and looked in trouble when the favourite My Tent Or Yours moved up ominously to challenge, but the grey responded with great determination to hold off his rival.
Quevega, already a Festival legend, added to her reputation when winning the Mares’ Hurdle for the fifth consecutive time to join the legendary Golden Miller as the only other horse to win five Festival races.
But it was an eventful win for the odds-on mare. Walsh said: "We were very, very lucky. She was on the floor at the top of the hill – she nodded and I nearly fell over her ears.
"When she stood back up then, the boys were gone, and I had to sit and suffer down the hill, but she has a tremendous little engine.”
The most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history, Nicky Henderson, also started the meeting in great style with a double via the anticipated success of 15/8 ON Simonsig in the Arkle Trophy and the less predictable victory of Rajdhani Express in the closing novices’ handicap chase.
Simonsig, beaten just once in his career and one of the rising stars of National Hunt racing, was not quite as flamboyant as had been expected in beating 33-1 chance Bally Green. That will not matter to Henderson, who is hot favourite to wrest this season’s overall trainers’ championship from the winless-on-the-day Paul Nicholls.
Rajdhani Express denied a Cotswold winner as 66-1 Ackertac was gaining fast at the line for the Naunton-based father and son team of Nigel Twiston-Davies and his son Sam.
The only other near miss for local Cotswold trainers or jockeys, was when Jason Maguire, who lives in Birdlip, finished second to Golden Chieftain in the JLT Speciality Chase aboard Our Mick.