HURRICANE FLY? Where do you start.
It was Harold Kirk (who else?) who picked him out first. Kirk is an Assistant Trainer in the Willie Mullins set up at Closutton, but that’s only part of it.
His eye for talent – and potential – particularly in France, where the Mullins squad have wheeled and dealed so shrewdly, is second to none.
The Hurricane was a handful – tough, aggressive and highly wired – and the story goes that his French flat trainer used to pop him over hurdles in practice just to take some of the sting out of him.
Typically, Kirk got to hear about this, and decided to check it out.
For a flat horse Kirk could hardly believe how polished and nifty he was popping over the hurdles.
He alerted Mullins and, after the usual haggling, a deal was struck – and he wasn’t a snip.
Which is fair enough from the sellers point of view, as he was Group placed on the flat where he had crossed swords with top racers like Lawman.
“No, he didn’t come cheap” Mullins recalls “in fact he was probably the most expensive horse we had in the yard at the time.”
Very small in stature, “The Fly” was something of a bully, and difficult to deal with.
Nor has that changed much despite the passing of the years.
Mullins explains: “His box is very much his territory, and you enter there on that understanding.”
“It takes two to put his tack on, and even Gail Carlisle, who looks after him all the time and Paul Townend who rides him out every day, enter the box at their peril” added the Carlow maestro.
“Most horses settle down at least to some extent after a while, but he never lost that aggression or attitude” he added.
Townend’s ability as a jockey is obvious, but he is also a superb horseman.
At work Hurricane was always ridden in front of everything else.
“He had to be” Mullins said “as if a horse ever came alongside him he’d want to race him, to take him on straight away.”
“Apart from that Paul was very good at keeping the lid on him, we wanted to save his energy for the track”
But of course he brings attitude onto the track as well.
His famous confrontations with Solwhit and Jezki spring to mind, as does his epic Champion Hurdle duel with Peddlers Cross.
That was mighty tight and you could even argue that Peddlers was perhaps a shade unlucky.
He paid a mighty price for that epic grueller up the Cheltenham Hill though as he was never the same horse again – or anything like it – afterwards.
Yet for all Hurricane Fly’s great moments on the Cotswolds, Cheltenham was not a track that suited him all that much.
He had to miss the Festival twice due to injury so overall his record there is excellent.
He lit up Punchestown many times too – but Leopardstown was where he reigned supreme.
Ten times he raced on the south Dublin track, all Grade Ones, and ten times he won.
Those big jumping Sundays at Leopardstown are special, and three memories stand out to me.
Danoli winning the Hennessy with the crowd hanging out of the rafters and roaring him home.
The incredible and emotional scenes when Florida Pearl came virtually out of semi retirement to land his fourth Hennessy a truly glorious Last Hurrah.
And then the Hurricane at eleven years of age last January winning his fifth Irish Champion Hurdle and the unbelievable reception he received from the massive crowd afterwards.
Was he better than Istabraq? In truth probably not.
Aidan O’Brien’s horse had more electric pace – he was after all bred to win a Derby.
The sheer speed, power and acceleration he showed coming down the hill swinging double for Charlie Swan in his first Champion was simply awesome.
Yet could even that sleek superstar have lived with the Hurricane in a battle, an all out dogfight?
Who knows. They were two great horses that gave so many golden days, lets just be glad we were privileged to savour both of them in action.
Could Faugheen prove as good? Lets hope so.
Perhaps the greatest tribute to Hurricane Fly was that Willie Mullins really thought he would beat stablemate Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle last March.
Ruby Walsh clearly didn’t agree and was proved right, but he took a mighty long time making up his mind – and who can blame him.
Retirement must be in the air as Clive Brittain is also leaving the stage.
Now in his eightes – as is that other remarkable evergreen trainer Kevin Prendergast – he has finally decided to call it quits, thus ending a colourful and astonishing career.
To go straight from stable lad to successful trainer would still be a mighty achievement today, but to do that in 1972 was truly astonishing.
For racing – and indeed society in general – was still stuck in an era of great social and class divisions, where people were expected to know their proper place and standing.
Thankfully that kind of nonsense never got in Brittain’s way, indeed nothing else ever did either.
For he was one of life’s great optimists, and no matter what life threw at him he always looked on the bright side.
And while he often seemed to be aiming high with what seemed wildly optimistic big race entries, this bold approach paid massive dividends time and again.
Even the buccaneering Dermot Weld, who has bagged huge prizes all over the globe, would have thought long and hard before trying his luck in the Kentucky Derby.
But true to form Brittain had no such reservations about taking on the cream of American racing at Churchill Downs.
Bold Arrangement did him proud finishing second to the Willie Shoemaker ridden Ferdinand in 1986.
Fillies were a speciality – Pebbles, User Friendly, Sayyedati and Crimplene all spring to mind, and he never lost his touch as Rizeena – also now set for retirement – flew the flag proudly in recent times.
His traditional jig of joy after she won the Moyglare at The Curragh two years ago delighted the crowd.
This much loved Newmarket handler – by all accounts still first out on the Heath every morning – will be greatly missed and everyone will wish him a long and happy retirement.
Ceol Agus Ol translates as Music And Drink and no doubt there was plenty of both among supporters after he romped home at 40/1 in the last at Roscommon on Monday evening.
A real skinner for the bookies you might say, and of course in the main it certainly was.
However some of the layers at the track got very badly stung. For this was no morning prices springer or a modern day online “touch”.
Instead, in scenes borrowed from an almost bygone age, they got their wedge on in the ring.
Some 66/1 and then “50’s” were taken each way, and by the time some bookies finally made it to the car park afterwards they were not exactly on good terms with the world.
That same race, the Four Roads Maiden Hurdle over two and a half miles, has certainly thrown up it’s share of shocks and surprises.
The most recent winners before Monday’s 40/1 steamer were Talk The Lingo 14/1, Royal Run 66/1, The Colleen Ban 10/1, Madam Bovary 16/1 and Drain Hopper 20/1.
Not a contest for steaming in to have “a monkey” on the jolly!
Back next Saturday.