Top 10 Most Popular Horses: Hurricane Fly bags 7th place
We continue our countdown of the Top 10 Most Popular Horses of the 21st Century, and turn our attentions to one of the finest hurdlers of the modern era, Hurricane Fly, who roars into seventh spot after a glittering career...
Bred to be a star on the Flat, Hurricane Fly's career rocketed once he saw a flight of hurdles, and during an epic career he amassed a mind-boggling 22 Grade One wins over a racing career that nearly spanned a decade.
The son of Montjeu, born in 2004, made his debut two years later in 2006 as he finished second over six furlongs. A winless juvenile campaign was followed by a much more successful three-year-old campaign, as under the stewardship of French trainer Jean-Luc Pelletan, Hurricane Fly began to make a name for himself over one mile, and he bagged his first notable success in a Listed event at Saint-Cloud. Failing to kick on in the second half of the 2007 campaign, Hurricane Fly was well beaten in a few Group races over 1m 1f and 1m 2f, but his time in France was up and he was sent to Willie Mullins' yard in Closutton as George Creighton purchased the exciting performer in March 2008.
Making his hurdling debut in May 2008, Hurricane Fly produced a serene switch to the jumping sphere as he sauntered to a 12-length success in a maiden hurdle at Punchestown and it would prove to be the catalyst for a phenomenal few years at the very top. Still a colt at the time he was sent into his first Grade 1 test on Irish soil, the 2008 Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, and Hurricane Fly outbattled Donnas Palm to win the Fairyhouse event by a neck.
Gelded following that success he then notched up back-to-back Grade 1 races as he won the Future Champion Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown's 2008 Christmas festival. For the next six years, Hurricane Fly would become the dominant Irish hurdler, as he conquered both the best of the Irish and the best of the British.
Amassing a staggering 22 Grade 1 wins during his illustrious career, Hurricane Fly would take a huge liking to Leopardstown racecourse, and he won on all ten of his visits to the Dublin track - and more impressively all ten of those wins came at Grade 1 level. The race he dominated at Leopardstown was the Irish Champion Hurdle, as Hurricane Fly won five Irish Champion Hurdles between 2011 and 2015. Add on to that four December Festival Hurdles (2010, 2012, 2013, 2014), Hurricane Fly's affiliation with Leopardstown will live long in the memory.
However, as has become par for the course in the world of National Hunt, you are only regarded as a superstar if you can win races at the Cheltenham Festival. Well, the horse dubbed 'The Fly' when at the height of his powers, lit up Prestbury Park on two separate occasions. Making his first trip to the Gloucestershire venue for the 2011 Cheltenham Festival, Hurricane Fly was sent off the 11/4 favourite for the Champion Hurdle, where he faced some top notch British stars including Peddler's Cross and Menorah. Travelling like a dream for Ruby Walsh, Hurricane Fly jumped to the front at the last flight of hurdles, and stormed up the hill to edge out a brave Peddler's Cross in a thrilling renewal of the opening day showpiece.
A shock defeat to Rock On Ruby when odds-on favourite for the 2012 Champion Hurdle, Hurricane Fly roared back into the limelight the following season, and produced one of the most iconic seasons in recent memory.
Most Iconic Performance
The 2012/2013 season for Hurricane Fly was arguably his finest on the track, as having amassed a trio of Grade 1 wins at Punchestown and Leopardstown, he returned to Cheltenham to try and regain his Champion Hurdle crown. With reigning champion Rock Of Ruby and new kid on the block and former Triumph Hurdle hero Zarkandar taking his chance then Hurricane Fly had to be at his best.
Well, Hurricane Fly produced a scorching performance at GL50 that Tuesday afternoon, as the 13/8 favourite cruised past Rock On Ruby as they turned for home and once Ruby Walsh had given the star the green light to go and win his race he quickened imperiously to pull three lengths clear of the field. A beautiful, slick jump at the last - like we had become accustomed to see - sealed the victory, and he duly galloped up the famous hill to regain the Champion Hurdle in epic fashion.
That season would end with more success at the Punchestown Festival, and his campaign that year would read five Grade 1 wins from five outings, as he showed he was still the best hurdler in training.
Still dominant on Irish soil as he ventured into the twilight of his career, Hurricane Fly failed to land Champion Hurdle glory again at the Cheltenham Festival, as he was beaten by Jezki in the 2014 race and stablemate Faugheen in the 2015 renewal. But, during that time he still grabbed a multitude of Grade 1 prizes at Leopardstown and Punchestown with the Irish Champion Hurdle, December Festival Hurdle and Morgiana Hurdle all going his way.
Upped in trip to three miles on his penultimate start at the 2015 Punchestown Festival, Hurricane Fly was edged out by Jezki, while his last run saw him finish where he started - in France - and he finished mid-division in the Grade 1 2015 Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil Hurdle.
He may not have gone out on a winning note, but what he had given to the world of National Hunt for over half a decade was phenomenal, and his record-breaking 22 Grade 1 wins is a feat no other has reached over timber, and is unlikely too. His sensational cruising speed, matched with his pinpoint precision over an obstacle made him unique, while his ability to grind it out when in a battle just emphasised the fact he had every positive attribute a trainer would want from their horse.
A legend in every sense of the word, and it was all somewhat of a shock, as the son of Montjeu was primed to be a Flat superstar, not one over jumps!
Ranking so far:
10 - Native River
9 - Sea The Stars
8 - Tiger Roll