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Weekend Review - Champions look ready for Cheltenham Festival

Hurricane shines at Leopardstown to make up magnificent Championship quartet

Hurricane Fly was instantly slashed for the Champion Hurdle as he stormed to a magnificent victory in the Irish equivalent at Leopardstown on Sunday and became the latest Cheltenham Festival hotpot to shorten up in the betting.

It is now almost certain that all four Championship race winners in last year's Festival are set to go off favourite for the 2012 renewals and what is stopping the quartet lifting the crowns for the second year in succession.

Hurricane Fly has always been prone to injury, but the class he oozed in beating Oscars Well was simply stunning and the Willie Mullins-trained phenomenon should be far too good come the opening day of the Festival and will get the Irish off to a superb start.

For most people Big Buck's will no doubt be the banker of the meeting as he bids for a fourth World Hurdle title come March and he showed on Saturday in the Cleeve Hurdle that he is still the dominant force in the staying hurdling division with his 15th consecutive victory.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup maybe a whole lot tougher for the reigning champions, but Sizing Europe showed when bagging Tingle Creeek glory at Sandown Park that he is still in fine fettle.  A proven performer at the Festival, Henry De Bromhead's stable star relishes the Prestbury Park undulations and will be another tough champion to beat.

Long Run may have tasted defeat to Kauto Star twice this season, but the way he was reeling in the legendary Paul Nicholls-trained stalwart certainly highlighted his need for that few extra furlongs and currently favourite for the Blue Riband event will be the one to beat come March 16, and could complete the four-timer for the reigning champions.

Harsh whip ban will prove costly for Walsh

As Pearl Swan and Grumeti were battling it out from the last hurdle up the Cheltenham hill in the JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial it was not just two horses locked together in high octane stuff, but Wayne Hutchinson and Ruby Walsh fighting tooth-and-nail up the run-in to bag victory in the contest.

However, when Pearl Swan was adjudged to have interfered with Grumeti and duly dropped to second place, it must have been frustrating enough for Walsh to have victory taken away from him.  But the stewards' decision to hand the Irish jockey a three-day ban for careless riding was simply not needed.

Pearl Swan may have veered off a straight line up the finish, but wouldn't it have been enough of a punishment to have taken the win off Walsh and not stamp an unwanted holiday on the back of his power-packed ride and make him miss the plum ride aboard Zarkandar in the Betfair Hurdle next weekend.

Boston looks the real deal for Mullins

Boston Bob propelled himself in to the Cheltenham Festival reckoning at Leopardstown yesterday with a scintillating performance in the Grade Two contest.

Giving weight to all his rivals, the Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old stormed through the mud to speed by his rivals in a matter of strides to win going-away in an eye-catching performance.

He was instantly slashed for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle and the Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle and he will definitely be a major contender for Fingal Bay should he lock horns with him at Cheltenham in March.

One To Watch

Sir Des Champs may have only won by half-a-length at Leopardstown on Saturday, but his victory over the classy duo of Fists of Fury and Hidden Cyclone was much better than that and he now looks a major player in the RSA Chase market,

He stalked his rivals throughouth the contest and duly went past them in fine style in the closing stages to win convincingly and he is certainly one to watch for the Willie Mullins' yard.