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Last Updated: 15/03/11 8:59am
Hurricane Fly will bid for Champion Hurdle glory on Tuesday afternoon
Hurricane Fly bids to lay a ghost to rest after finally making an elusive first trip to Cheltenham to contest Tuesday's Stan James Champion Hurdle.
The French import has always been held in the highest regard by Irish champion Willie Mullins, but injury has scuppered his participation at the last two Festivals and it seemed he would never line up at the spiritual home of National Hunt racing.
This season, however, has seemingly gone entirely to plan, with the seven-year-old completing a hat-trick of victories over Solwhit in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January.
Mullins has refused to get ahead of himself all season so not to tempt fate, and even now remains cautiously optimistic rather than confident that his charge can prevail.
The County Carlow handler does not expect the track or the ground to pose a problem after assessing conditions on Monday morning and is now keeping his fingers crossed all goes to plan.
"Everything seems fine with him since he travelled over and he seems in good form," said Mullins.
"I walked the track this morning and I don't think ground will be a problem for him.
"I'm not confident, my focus all season has been to get him there."
Paul Townend has guided Hurricane Fly to each of his three victories this season but Ruby Walsh is back in the saddle having returned from injury.
"Obviously we had a decision to make regarding the jockey, but it's very difficult to leave the leading jockey around Cheltenham off," Mullins continued.
"Most of our Cheltenham winners never ran there before and I don't think it's a huge problem.
"It would have been nice to have done it, but it just didn't lend itself as we had other things to do here.
"He's won three times round Leopardstown and that's a great guide if you're going to Cheltenham."
Another statistic that Hurricane Fly has against him is the fact that no son of leading sire Montjeu has ever won at Cheltenham, but Mullins is not overly concerned.
The County Carlow handler added: "The Montjeu statistic is a worry but you can look at it the other way as if so many Montjeu horses have run at Cheltenham and haven't won, the chances are a winner is coming soon!
"It's certainly something you take on board but he has never shown any reason he wouldn't handle Cheltenham or come up the hill.
"Every time he's had a hill to travel up he's travelled up it very easily."
Another criticism levelled at the great Irish hope is that he has been beating the same horses this season, but Mullins believes Solwhit has been underestimated.
"I think Solwhit is a very good horse and you can't help what horses are in the races. Solwhit would be a fair machine to have in any yard," the trainer continued.
"I know he disappointed in the Champion Hurdle last year, but we know he's a Grade One horse."
Mullins also saddles Thousand Stars in the Champion Hurdle, not beaten far into third in the Irish equivalent.
"Thousand Stars has had two nice prep runs and if he travels up the hill this year the way he did last year' hopefully he'll get into the money," Mullins concluded.
"He made the running last time, but I'd imagine we'll adopt different tactics tomorrow."
Donald McCain is confident Peddlers Cross is at the peak of his powers as he prepares to put his unbeaten record on the line.
Already a Festival winner having landed the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle 12 months ago, the six-year-old has taken the step up to the big league in his stride.
After beating last year's winner Binocular - absent from this year's renewal - in the Fighting Fifth, he struck in Kelso's Morebattle Hurdle.
"Touch wood, since Kelso, everything has been great," said the Cholmondeley handler.
"He's done a little bit of work this morning upsides and he looks good and seems well and happy. We'll just have to keep our fingers crossed.
"He's in tremendous form. I suppose in a way my work is done, but it doesn't make you feel an awful lot better!"
McCain has an interesting second string in the shape of bold front-runner Overturn.
"He's absolutely bouncing at the moment and is working out of his skin," McCain continued.
"If he's anywhere near his best, he won't be the easiest horse to get past."
Nicky Henderson has saddled five winners of the race and despite being hit hard by Binocular's absence, he still has a potent second string in the shape of Oscar Whisky, impressive winner of the Welsh Champion Hurdle last time out.
He said: "I think Oscar Whisky is in seriously good form, he is very, very well.
"He won what was my main target, the Welsh Champion Hurdle, which was important because Dai Walters, who owns him, owns Ffos Las, but having said that, I just think he has come on a fair bit from that."
Menorah has won all his three races over the course and his jockey Richard Johnson reports Philip Hobbs' charge to be in good form.
"He's been doing very well. I schooled him the other day and he seems fine in himself and felt good," he said.
"He enjoys the track and he's got a good record there so hopefully he can keep that record up.
"It's a shame Binocular is not there, but Peddlers Cross and Hurricane Fly look good horses and none of us have taken each other on before. I certainly wouldn't swap Menorah for anything."
Dunguib was sent off odds-on favourite when only third in the Supreme 12 months ago and was then sixth to Hurricane Fly in Punchestown on his final start last spring.
He only returned at Gowran Park last month, but showed his well-being with victory over Luska Lad, and rider Brian O'Connell is looking forward to the race.
"It looks a very good race and hopefully he'll give a good account of himself," said O'Connell.
"He should handle the ground OK. It shouldn't be a problem, it will be safe and that's the main thing.
"It was a good comeback run at Gowran. He couldn't have done more on the day and we were delighted with him. He came out of the race well and he seems to be in good form going into the race."
Fenton also feels Dunguib has benefited for his recent outing and just wants the horse to do the talking this year.
"I am sure that he is improved since winning at Gowran Park, but I am also well aware that he needs to if he is going to run well at Cheltenham," said the County Tipperary trainer.
"There is obviously less talk and hype about the horse compared to last year, but things are running smoothly and we are very happy with him at the moment."
Alan King believes Mille Chief's prospects will be boosted by the better conditions at Prestbury Park than prevailed in mid-winter.
"On the figures, Mille Chief needs to find about 10lb, and, while only time will tell whether he can improve that much, I am convinced that he will show himself a much better horse on better ground," said the Barbury Castle trainer on his website.