Walsh replaces Townend on Fly in Champion Hurdle

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Leading Irish jumps trainer Willie Mullins has announced that his strongly fancied Stan James Champion Hurdle contender Hurricane Fly will be partnered on Tuesday by Ruby Walsh and not Paul Townend, who has been in the saddle for the gelding’s last six Grade 1 wins, writes Elliot Slater.

Walsh, who is first choice jockey for the Mullins yard when not riding for his guv’nor Paul Nicholls, has invariably been claimed to ride one of the Ditcheat handler’s hurdler’s in major events leaving Townend to have a clear run with Hurricane Fly for very nearly two years. Indeed, Townend has only once tasted defeat from seven rides on the star Irish seven-year-old, that reverse coming on his seasonal bow last term when only third to Solwhit and clearly looking in need of the outing.

Those who give UK and Irish racing tips feel that Townend has been rather hard done by in not being able to continue his association with the in-form son of Montjeu, but Mullins made it clear that Walsh would be on board whenever he was available to ride, and with Paul Nicholls having no representative in this year’s Champion Hurdle field, the choice was fairly straight-forward. Mullins went on to confirm that Townend will be aboard his second string, the 25/1 shot Thousand Stars (no mug in his own right and a winner of the County Hurdle at last year’s Cheltenham Festival), in Tuesday’s big event.

Mullins also confirmed that Hurricane Fly worked in fine style at Cheltenham racecourse on Saturday and that he couldn’t be happier with the condition of the 7/2 second-favourite for the race, following the shock news that long time ante-post favourite of UK and Irish racing Binocular will not run. The new market leader is Philip Hobbs’ International Hurdle winner Binocular, generally on offer at 3/1 favourite.

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