Hurricane Fly wins Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown
Hurricane Fly is evens favourite to win a second consecutive Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham after a superb comeback win in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Ridden by Ruby Walsh, he scored by six-and-a-half lengths at Leopardstown from Oscars Well after a 268-day absence.
Bookmakers were suitably impressed and promptly cut Hurricane Fly's odds for the Cheltenham race in March.
"He completely surprised me. It must be as good a performance as he's ever produced," said trainer Willie Mullins.
"I was surprised how fit he appeared. We'll keep a lid on him between now and Cheltenham."
Hurricane Fly's return was eagerly awaited by racing fans after he had not been seen since winning at Punchestown in May.
Champion trainer Mullins had previously admitted his stable star, who powered to a thrilling victory at Cheltenham 10 months ago, was not firing on all cylinders at home.
A pleasing racecourse gallop at Leopardstown earlier this month got his season back on track, but he still had questions to answer as he returned to the competitive stage.
The 4-5 favourite travelled with his trademark panache throughout and Walsh eased him closer to the front before the turn for home.
Thousand Stars did his best to fight off his stable companion in the straight, but Hurricane Fly went by him and pulled clear after the final flight to win by six-and-a-half lengths.
Oscars Well rallied to finish second and deny Mullins a one-two, with Unaccompanied finishing fourth, a place behind Thousand Stars.
Mullins added: "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."