Punters holding ante-post vouchers for Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival in March will be disturbed to learn that the reigning champion hurdler and hot favourite to retain his title in four months time, is a surprise absentee from his intended seasonal reappearance in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown at the weekend, writes Elliot Slater.
Having been declared amongst the six runner-field only 24 hours earlier the Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old was reported an absentee from the race with no details given as to the reason behind him missing what was expected to be an easy opportunity to extend his winning streak to seven Grade 1’s in a row.
Over the years Hurricane Fly has not been the easiest of horses to train and has missed a stack of big race opportunities, including the Morgiana Hurdle 12 months ago when he was a late withdrawal due to coughing. He has also suffered more serious setbacks during his career including injuries to both a suspensory ligament and a splint problem. Those looking ahead to the Cheltenham Festival betting should remember this.
A statement regarding the wellbeing or otherwise of the gelded son of Montjeu is expected to be given by Mullins in due course, as any serious setback for Hurricane Fly could result in a wholesale reshaping of the ante-post market for the two-mile hurdling crown. Those looking at the date of Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 need to bear this in mind.
Few people had been prepared to bet against the winner of 11 of his last 13 races (currently a top priced 7/4 favourite to retain his title) following his outstanding victory over the previously unbeaten Peddlers Cross at Cheltenham last March and his even easier win in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle at Punchestown a couple of months later when he nonchalantly accounted for his stable companion and subsequent French Champion Hurdle winner Thousand Stars by five-lengths.