One of racing’s oldest adages is “back the outsider of the three” and while referring to Jezki as an outsider verges on the insulting, the old saying could pay off for punters in tomorrow’s eagerly-anticipated Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Only Hurricane Fly, one of the truly great hurdlers in Irish racing history, and Our Conor, probably the most brilliant Triumph Hurdle winner most of us have ever seen, could relegate such an outstanding performer as Jezki from being firmly centre-stage, but that’s the reality ahead of the final festival day feature.
Hurricane Fly’s status makes him the inevitable headline act and race fans have been waiting ever since last March to check out Our Conor’s credentials to be the current Horse of the Year’s heir-apparent.
The image of the four-year-old cantering all over his Triumph rivals at Cheltenham still provokes comparisons to the great 1970’s white-hope Golden Cygnet who famously looked to have the world at his feet as a novice only to incur fatal injuries in a fall.
Like him there is no knowing the heights Our Conor may yet aspire to, but what we do know is that Hurricane Fly represents the ultimate modern-day benchmark for any young hurdler on the up, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that that includes Jezki, as well as Our Conor.
Jessica Harrington's runner hasn't yet captured the public imagination in the manner of his two rivals but remains a hugely-talented performer that is resolutely among the pack of up-and-comers aiming to relieve Hurricane Fly of his title.
Jezki didn't impress everyone when landing short odds in the Hatton's Grace over two and a half miles at the start of the month but apart from a clumsy effort at the final flight, it was hard to fault how he travelled through the race.
Harrington stressed her belief afterwards that a fast-run two miles on a left-handed track is what her stable-star ideally requires and there is every chance, with Captain Cee Bee in tomorrow, that he will get his pace this time. It is also worth remembering that possibly the most impressive of his three Grade One victories as a novice came on very soft going at Punchestown so this surface will be no trouble to him.
Leopardstown has never been any trouble to Hurricane Fly who boasts a perfect six-from-six record around here as part of a world record Grade One haul. In fact the one place that Willie Mullins’s superstar has never fully sparked is Cheltenham where, nevertheless, he is two from three in the Champion Hurdle.
There is a theory that Hurricane Fly is now vulnerable to a vintage crop of youngsters that also includes The New One and My Tent Or Yours in Britain, a theory that gathered some encouragement from his comeback win in the Morgiana that hardly saw him win like a 1/16 shot. But Willie Mullins is confident there will be significant improvement from that race and there is no doubt around here Hurricane Fly continues to present a hugely formidable challenge.
Dessie Hughes knows all about what it takes to win a Champion Hurdle and there is no disguising the Curragh trainer's confidence in his latest top-flight contender. The man who rode Monksfield and trained Hardy Eustace to championship glory was unmistakably pleased with a recent racecourse gallop put in by Our Conor whose only appearance since the Triumph was a spin on the flat in October.
He has already proved how much he relishes hurdles and in many ways Our Conor represents something of the ‘X-factor’ in this week’s entire action. From a punting point of view however, Jezki still gets the vote.
The scale of the financial clout required to compete at the top level of the National Hunt game is greater than it’s ever been, something that can be emphasised if Morning Assembly maintains his unbeaten record over fences in tomorrow’s Topaz Novice Chase at Leopardstown.
Considering Morning Assembly is owned by Yorkshire businessman Steve Parkin, an ex-miner whose Clipper Logistics Group is a major company, it can hardly be argued he represents some romantic 'small man' ideal but he is really taking on the big guns of the jumping game in this €75,000 Grade One highlight.
JP McManus (Carlingford Lough), Michael O'Leary (Bright New Dawn), Barry Connell (Foxrock) and Ann and Alan Potts (Sizing Rio) represent some of the elite at the top of Ireland's owners table.
Morning Assembly cemented Parkin's relationship with Carlow-based trainer Pat Fahy at Punchestown last April. That indicated Morning Assembly as a potentially high-class chaser and two starts this term have only emphasised that impression, especially the last of them, when the six-year-old edged out the subsequent Drinmore winner Don Cossack. Ruby Walsh has made no secret of his regard for Morning Assembly and the Fahy team has been in good form over Christmas.