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Ryedale hero Countrywide Flame runs hot in ‘huge race’ at Cheltenham
A PROUD John Quinn declared his intention to plan another assault on the Stan James Champion Hurdle at next year’s Cheltenham Festival after Countrywide Flame ran a “huge race” to finish third.
Turning for home in the two mile and half furlong contest, Quinn’s five-year-old had every chance of becoming the first North Yorkshire-trained Champion Hurdle winner since Sea Pigeon won back-to-back races for Peter Easterby in 1980 and 1981.
Last year’s Triumph Hurdle victor was ultimately unable to reel in the brilliant Hurricane Fly and was a length and three quarters behind the runner-up Rock On Ruby, who won the race 12 months ago.
But Norton-based Quinn was understandably delighted with the performance of his talented gelding, pictured, and said: “It’s probably as good a Champion Hurdle as has been run for a few years and he has run a huge race.
“He stayed up there, the ground was fine for him – a bit better might suit him more.“But we are not taking anything away from the winner.
“He has run a blinder for a five-year-old. He got a great gallop, he jumped great and travelled great and it was a great thrill.
“I just thought, turning in, that he might fill up again but you’ve got two real-deal horses around you. I couldn’t be happier.
“I am as pleased as one can be for finishing third.”
Countrywide Flame has been noted for his stamina and it was thought Quinn might step him up in trip next season in a bid to target the World Hurdle at the Festival.
Following his performance in the Champion, however, that view looks likely to change.
Quinn added: “He wasn’t beaten too far in a Champion Hurdle. I don’t know about the stayers’ hurdle next year. I think he will be having another dig at the Champion Hurdle.
“He has run really, really well. He’s very tough and he doesn’t know when he is beaten and he stays really well.
“While they are all great horses, like us they are all going to be a year older next year, and he is only going to be a six-year-old.
“I am only disappointed because we all want to win, but I couldn’t be happier with winning third.”
Hurricane Fly, who was part of an opening day Festival treble for jockey Ruby Walsh and trainer Willie Mullins along with Champagne Fever in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Quevega in the Mares’ Hurdle, wasn’t fluent mid-way through the race and was briefly shaken up.
But the Irish superstar – who won the Champion Hurdle in 2011, was third last year and has now become the first horse since Comedy Of Errors 38 years ago to regain the crown – led on the bend just before the last and beat Rock On Ruby by two and a half lengths.
Walsh said: “It’s brilliant. I can’t say I was ever overly confident – I’ve been confident for the past three weeks – but from the word go he was never travelling like he can do and he made a few mistakes.
“What he has along with all the class is an unbelievably big heart for a small horse and he is as tough as nails. He has never been short of stamina or guts and he jumped the last when I needed one today.”
Mullins added: “This means a great deal but most of all that the horse came back and proved himself. He has justified our belief in his ability, and has done on the track what he’d been telling us at home that he could do.”