Hurricane Fly and Jezki set for another duel

Big names two of just three horses declared for Champion Hurdle at Punchestown

Hurricane Fly and Jezki are two of only three horses declared for the Racing Post Champion Hurdle at Punchestown on Friday.

The two big guns look to have the race to themselves in the Grade One feature and tactics are likely to play a big part in the outcome.

The Willie Mullins-trained Hurricane Fly is chasing a fifth successive win in the race and a remarkable 20th victory at the top level.

However, he defends his Punchestown crown on the back of a below-par performance in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham where he was only fourth to Jezki, a horse he had beaten in his two previous starts in the Irish Champion Hurdle and the Ryanair Hurdle.

The 10-year-old also won the Champion Novice Hurdle in 2009.

Jezki is trained by Jessica Harrington, who is also responsible for the third member of the party, Steps To Freedom.

The four horses taken out at the 48-hour final declaration stage were Court Minstrel, Diakali, Annie Power and Quevega.

Quevega will, as expected, bid for an incredible fifth successive victory in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle on Thursday.

The 10-year-old became the first horse in history to win six races at the Cheltenham Festival when getting up to beat stable companion Glens Melody in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle last month.

Five of those victories came on her first start of the season and for the last four years she has gone on to claim this three-mile Grade One event.

Mullins said: “It has been a very lucky race for us over the years and hopefully she will run well again.

“She is ready to go and is in great form.”

Quevega is one of three runners in the field for the champion trainer, with Glens Melody reopposing her illustrious stable companion and Mourad also in the field.

“Glens Melody was an eyecatcher at Cheltenham and has been improving all season,” said Mullins.

"We haven't been easy on her. She's been to England a few times.

“She was beaten by the horse that beat Annie Power (More Of That) in the World Hurdle.

“I was thinking maybe she was sick then, but that probably wasn’t a bad run.”

Fingal Bay was a Grade One-winning novice hurdler a couple of seasons ago for Philip Hobbs and although he spent well over a year on the sidelines through injury, he has returned seemingly as good as ever.

Following a comeback victory at Exeter, the eight-year-old claimed a thrilling Pertemps Final at Cheltenham and the form has been well advertised since, with the runner-up Southfield Theatre winning at Sandown last weekend and the third home, Pineau De Re,landing the Grand National.

Big-race jockey Richard Johnson said: "Fingers crossed, he seems in really good form since Cheltenham and we're looking forward to running him.

“It’s a step up for him from a handicap to a Grade One, but the Cheltenham form has obviously worked out very well.

“He needs to improve on what he’s done so far to beat a horse like Quevega, who is an exceptional mare, but he’s done very little wrong in his career and I’m hopeful he’ll put up a bold show.

“There is a bit of rain forecast and that would definitely be a help for him.”