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Ryanair Hurdle preview

The Lexus Chase was a mouth-watering contest but the Ryanair Hurdle has to trump it. The best hurdler we've seen since Istabraq with a serious challenge on his hands from the newer kids on the block...

Taking the reins is another new contributor - welcome aboard Andrew Humphrey, @ashsh.

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Ryanair Hurdle

Leopardstown welcomes a gathering of the best two mile hurdlers in the world as it hosts the Ryanair Hurdle tomorrow at 2:00pm. The undulating nature of the course is both a test of stamina and speed, much of the form seen here is translatable to the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. The magnificent Hurricane Fly has amassed two Champion Hurdle trophies after winning this race and the great Istabraq completed the feat three times between December 97 and March 2000. It is what some might call, an Irish Champion Hurdle Trial.

The 2013 running of this race could be one of the best races, not just of the year but in the recent history of the race. The incomparable record of Hurricane Fly is under serious danger and he will have to fend off the highly thought of and respected younger horses going straight for him. The battle does not end with the horses, the two maestros of modern jump racing Ruby Walsh and AP McCoy will also collide in a battle that could go down to the line.

It would be unfair to start off with anyone but Hurricane Fly. The 9yo trained by the unstoppable Willie Mullins comes in favourite for the race after his workmanlike winning of the Morgiana Hurdle in November. With three Winter Festival Hurdles under his already bulging belt, the Fly comes up against arguably the best competitors he has faced in this race before. In his previous 10 starts in Ireland, only once has the nine year old been above Evens which is a testament to his quality but possibly also the opposition he has come up against. Ruby Walsh takes the ride and the relationship the two have is almost telepathic. The ground will not be a problem as the last three runnings of this race have been on a surface very similar to what is expected. This may be the toughest test that the Fly has ever encountered on any of his runs and some may say it is finally the race that will make or break the quality of this 9yo. The ground and the jockey are not the problems for this record breaker; the competition is.

Our Conor came like a bolt from the blue at the Cheltenham Festival last year, storming up the hill under the then less-commonly known jockey Bryan Cooper to whitewash his fellow competitors in the Triumph Hurdle. It was a day that the racing world stood up and saw what could be one of the superstars of the future. The four year old was entered for the Morgiana in which he would have faced Hurricane Fly but was pulled out, depriving racing fans of the battle they were so keen to see. Trainer Dessie Hughes has reported that his superstar is 100% ready for the race and that means bad news for his rivals. The lead up to this race however is something people may take note of, since his win in March, the 4yo has had a single run out coming in October in a handicap. Another worry for some is the jockey change. Bryan Cooper led him to victory at Cheltenham but after being purchased by Barry Connell his retained rider Danny Mullins now becomes the future jockey, this may unnerve some but with a weight for age claim of four pounds, he has a big chance. The question remains, how he will run fresh?

Jezki represents the yard of Mrs Jessie Harrington and owner JP McManus. The Harrington yard isn’t in the greatest of form but this horse is without doubt the superstar of the stable. The 5yo comes into this race unbeaten in his last three races overcoming recent winners such as Zaidpour and Champagne Fever, who had previously beaten him by 2.75 lengths. This horse has come on leaps and bounds since his defeat in the Supreme Novices at this years Cheltenham Festival, improvements in his jumping have seen him gain lengths on horses and use his raw speed to overcome others and secure two Grade 1 races. Course and distance form are both in the bag for this five year old after winning the Future Champion Novices Hurdle in 2012 in which he beat Bright New Dawn on a surface much like what is expected. Bright New Dawn has franked the form by coming out and winning himself recently at Punchestown. This horse has been somewhat overshadowed by the two leaders in the market due to their Festival wins but under the guidance of AP McCoy, there is real chance that an upset could be on the cards. If the jumping is fluid, the speed is there deep within this horse to really threaten the other two and it is not outside the realms of possibility that Jezki can come away from this race with a win.

The two outsiders of the race are Thousand Stars and Captain Cee Bee. The pair are aged nine and 12 respectively and seem to be well out of their depth. Captain Cee Bee has come up against Hurricane Fly before three times albeit being beaten by over 53 lengths combined. Thousand Stars is a stable mate of Hurricane Fly and it is conceivable that Willie Mullins will use him as a pacemaker for the Fly. Without a win since 2009 it is huge ask for this horse to come out and defeat any of the other four horses in the race.

This will be one of the races of the year without doubt. It will be a great tactical affair between Mullins, McCoy and Walsh to see who will make the pace and break first. To conclude, I have to throw my hat in the HURRICANE FLY ring. The knowledge of Walsh mixed in with the gusty determination of the Fly will see them narrowly overcome Jezki and extend the proof of his quality to the world.

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