Racing Ahead with Tony McCormick

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Racing pundit Tony McCormick from www.irishbigracetrends.com beforetheoff.com and racing radio station racingfm.com reviews a big weekend for Cheltenham Festival hopefuls.

Hurricane Fly continued to rewrite the record books with a brilliant success in the Irish Champion Hurdle on Sunday afternoon. Willie Mullins’ exceptional hurdler eclipsed the mighty Istabraq as he moved on to five successes in the race. It was his 22nd Grade One victory and he maintained his remarkable unbeaten record at the track making it 10 from 10.

It wasn’t all plain sailing for the 11/10 favourite, however, with Ruby Walsh niggling along his mount after the third last. He responded in some style, however, and once again showed terrific courage and battling qualities to get the job done.

Old rival Jezki had jumped to the fore at the third last and travelled well at the head of affairs as they rounded for home.

Hurricane Fly wore him down before the last, however, and had a narrow advantage when the reigning English champion hurdler blundered at the final flight.

“That’s fantastic. He did it the hard way today. They made a complete staying race of it today,” said Mullins. Interesting comment from Mullins, as the Champion Hurdle at The Festival is run at anything but a staying pace.

It may be too quick for those 11-year-old legs in this year’s contest, while some I speak to in the game, actually believe Hurricane Fly won’t turn up at Prestbury Park, saving jockey Ruby Walsh from an agonising decision to desert the legendary horse for favourite Faugheen.

Jessica Harrington’s Jezki will be there to defend his crown with owner JP McManus having a big decision in whether to continue to use AP McCoy or Barry Geraghty, who is five from five on the seven-year-old.

Un De Sceaux blew away his two rivals with an electric display in the Irish Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown. The 8/11 favourite took up his customary front-running role in the 2m1f contest and produced some extravagant leaps in a fine display of jumping.

Gilgamboa was the first to crack as he came off the bridle, while Clarcam cried enough before the last in the Grade 1 event.

Un De Sceaux is now as short as 4/6 for the Arkle at Cheltenham.

Gilgamboa is likely to step up in trip after losing his 100% record over fences in the race. The seven-year-old has an entry in the JLT Novices’ Chase over two and a half miles at the Cheltenham Festival and that was immediately suggested as a possible target for Gilgamboa, who had won his first two starts over the bigger obstacles at Navan and Limerick.

Oliver Sherwood believes there is every chance Saturday’s Cheltenham hero Many Clouds can improve again ahead of his date with destiny in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. Making his first appearance since his popular triumph in the Hennessy at Newbury in late November, the eight-year-old proved his worth at Prestbury Park with a determined victory in the hands of Leighton Aspell.

Sherwood admits he would prefer similarly testing conditions in the blue riband, but is not unduly concerned about the prospect of better ground.

He said: “I was very impressed with him. He’s improved since the Hennessy and who is to say he’s not going to improve again? Confidence is sky high with him at the moment, which is very important.

“I still think we’ve got a bit to improve to warrant taking on or beating Silviniaco Conti. He’s got to prove it around Cheltenham and if you take him out of the race, it is a very open Gold Cup.

“Last year’s Gold Cup had a very strange end and the one thing (Many) Clouds will do is he will get the trip and if he gets in a battle I know who will win the battle, that will be Many Clouds.”

Wetherby’s highlight on Saturday will be the Grade 2 Towton Novices’ Chase with Phillip Hobbs’ Return Spring, Kings Palace from David Pipe’s yard, Kaki De La Pree and Saturdays Cheltenham absentee Ned Stark all holding entries.

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