Steady preparation aids Hurricane Fly retention hopes

Willie Mullins is pleased to see the taps being turned on at Cheltenham ahead of Hurricane Fly’s defence of the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

The eight-year-old returns to Prestbury Park having won his last seven starts at Grade One level and some argue he faces an easier task than he did 12 months ago.

Although the gelding’s well-documented fragility prevented him running for the first half of the current campaign, he looked better than ever when making a breathtaking return in January’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Mullins reports his pride and joy to be a far more relaxed individual than last year after seeing him take to the famous Cheltenham turf for a spin on the eve of the Festival, and is pleased officials have decided to water after walking the course himself.

“He travelled over well, he rode out nicely this morning and seems in nice form,” said Mullins.

“He seems much more relaxed on the gallop over here than he was last year.

“They are watering the track at the moment, which I think is a good thing. They are calling the ground good, good to soft in places but after walking the track this morning, I’d say there is a lot of good.

“With the way the temperatures are – it’s a cloudless day today – that probably prompted them to water and I’m glad to see it. If it’s softer it’s safer.”

The Irish champion trainer is unsure whether the classy French recruit has improved since his comeback run at Leopardstown, but will be more than satisfied if he lines up in the same form as that day.

“I think he’s just holding his form and I’m happy with that,” he added.

Mullins has a second string in Zaidpour, who is unbeaten in his last four starts.

He disappointed in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Festival last year, but his trainer feels there were excuses.

“The ground is probably too dry for him, but what ever chance he has the ground would be way too dry for him by Thursday (World Hurdle), so we’ll let him take his chance tomorrow,” he added.

“He has Grade One form over two miles, so we have to give him his chance to do it.

“He wasn’t right last year coming to the Festival and we think he’s in good order this year.”