Jezki in line to return – in a ‘winners of one’ at Navan

Jessica Harrington believes she has pinpointed perfect opportunity for top hurdler

Jezki ridden by Barry Geraghty on the way to winning The Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy at Cheltenham in 2014. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

Race planning is a vital element of any trainer's job and Jessica Harrington believes she may have pinpointed a golden opportunity for her 2014 Champion Hurdle hero Jezki to return to action with a win at Navan on Saturday week.

Rather than tackle the big guns in the following week’s BHP Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, Jezki is instead set for his first start in almost 20 months in the €24,000 Follow Navan On Facebook Hurdle.

The conditions of the contest are that it’s confined to “five-year-olds and upwards that have not won a hurdle race other than one hurdle race of a value not more than €13,000 since May 3, 2015”.

Jezki’s last start was on April 30, 2015, when beating his old rival Hurricane Fly in a Grade One contest at the Punchestown festival. It was no less than the eighth top-flight victory of a brilliantly successful career which has been interrupted by injury for over a season.


No penalty

“I’ve found a much easier opportunity for him than the Irish Champion,” said Harrington. “He will run in Navan in a winners of one, over two miles – and he will have no penalty!”

Although the prospect of taking on one of the finest hurdlers of the last decade in a relatively mundane Saturday contest will hardly leave potential opposition too thrilled, it is good news for Navan’s authorities.

"It's our first meeting of the year and it's fair to say it wouldn't be our strongest fixture. So that would be a real shot in the arm," said Navan's manager, Peter Killeen.

At Christmas, Harrington had indicated the Irish Champion Hurdle would be Jezki’s long-awaited comeback race with the JP McManus-owned star as short as 12/1 in some ante-post lists for the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham. However, plans for the festival in March are not certain.

“He may get put in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham too. Entries for that don’t close until next Monday,” the trainer said.

Two miles

“He’s been off a long time but we’re very happy with him and if everything goes well at Navan he could then go for the Red Mills at Gowran over two miles,” added Harrington, who also confirmed that her latest Grade One star, Our Duke, will be pointed next at the Flogas Novice Chase at Leopardstown next month.

Paddy Power have installed Faugheen as a 4/7 favourite "with a run" to successfully defend his Irish Champion Hurdle crown at Leopardstown. Gigginstown Stud's Ryanair Hurdle winner Petit Mouchoir is 11/8.

Faugheen's owner Rich Ricci is very hopeful the top-rated hurdler in training will be able to make his own return from injury later this month. Faugheen has been entered for a number of races this season but has yet to take up an engagement, with Willie Mullins not keen to run the horse until he is fully happy with him.

“I am very hopeful we will see Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle on January 29th. We are not there yet, but the signs are positive,” Ricci reported.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column