Jessica Harrington yard gears up for Leopardstown festival

With seven Grade One races and €1.2 million in prizemoney, 55,000 punters are expected

Jessica Harrington, Kate Harrington and Robbie Power with two of the yard’s star performers Jetson and Jezki. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

Jessica Harrington, Kate Harrington and Robbie Power with two of the yard’s star performers Jetson and Jezki. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho

 

Visiting a racing yard can have multiple benefits, not least of which is a reminder that a racehorse is a living, breathing individual, preoccupied more about which corner of the stable to empty its bowels in than statistical concerns such as its handicap rating or number on the race-card.

It’s easy to reduce the creature to figures: most of the 100,000 people expected to go racing during the Christmas holidays will probably do so, and mostly in terms of simple odds too.

Up to 55,000 are due to attend Leopardstown’s famous festival which is worth €1.2 million and which had the Dublin track’s officials busily promoting early entries for its seven Grade 1 races by descending with a noisy media-pack on Jessica Harrington’s yard.

Reacting warily

At the front of them, Jezki led his daily neighbours around with the nonchalance of the champion he is. The reigning Champion Hurdle winner is on track to tackle Hurricane Fly again in Leopardstown’s Ryan- air Hurdle on the fourth and final day of Leopardstown’s festival and looked a picture of gleaming contentment. Moscow Magic however looked considerably more worried.

Possibly more used to being quietly examined by owners such as JP McManus, or Harrington’s old friend, Rolling Stone, Ronnie Wood, Moscow Magic briefly baulked at having to share a walkway to the gallops with some considerably less exalted company.

“You big bloody fool,” declared Harrington, causing more than one media head to turn around sheepishly. “He’s such an idiot that horse.”

An old sheep

If Moscow Magic and Walk To Freedom understood what was being said about them, their feelings were unlikely to have been hurt. At 67, the woman who imprinted her name on racing lore with Moscow Flyer continues to run one of the most successful dual-purpose stables in the country with a brisk efficiency that doesn’t come close to disguising the warmth she obviously feels for her charges as personalities. This will be a first Christmas since the death of her late-husband Johnny in April but her anticipation of the racing following the big day is undiluted.

“There are four festivals in Ireland that owners really do want their horses to be ready for: Fairyhouse at Easter, Punchestown, Galway, and Leopardstown Christmas. And the great thing about Leopardstown is that it gives us reasonable ground in the middle of winter,” she said.

That is just one factor in a star-studded entry that includes the last two Gold Cup winners, Lord Windermere and Bob’s Worth being aimed at the €150,000 Lexus Chase. But the best really could be saved until last with Jezki and Hurricane Fly joined by 11 other entries for the €100,000 Ryan- air Hurdle.

The new young-gun on the hurdling scene, Faugheen, is among them too but it is Jezki who still wears the crown despite losing to Hurricane Fly on their first start of the season.

Four weeks away

“Hopefully we will be able to work Jezki on grass as he’s got very cute and goes through the motions on the all-weather gallop,” Harrington considered. “He was probably short one piece of (last race) but he’s really bouncing now.”

The man bouncing on his back was Robbie Power. Tony McCoy will ride at Christmas but Power has ridden the horse to one of his six top-flight victories and knows Jezki better than most. “He’s very relaxed usually, a gentleman in his box,” the Grand National winning jockey said. “He takes a good hold on the gallops, but that’s what you want.”

There was a scurrilous suggestion that it has been known for Jezki to chance a bite of something besides oats. But as the familiar butty ball of racecourse energy was quietly led around, waiting his turn to have mucky legs hosed off, it seemed to be a personality quirk easily forgiven.

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