Punchestown: Sunshine and stamina test show Jezki at his best
Former Champion hurdler outstays great rival Hurricane Fly in World Hurdle
Mark Walsh and Jezki hold off Ruby Walsh and Hurricane Fly to win the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle at Punchestown. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho.
Breeding mightn’t beat feeding but it looked to help Jezki beat his old rival Hurricane Fly when the pair of former Champion Hurdle winners memorably tackled three miles for the first time in their illustrious careers at Punchestown.
On day when the all-dominant Willie Mullins saddled a 3,274/1 five-timer to bring his tally for the week to ten, the big race was a rare reverse for ‘The Fly’s’ trainer, whose hugely exciting novice Un De Sceaux duly won the Grade 1 novice chase at odds of 1-10.
Hurricane Fly did briefly threaten to stretch his personal record over Jezki to 7-2 in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle but ultimately it was the Jessica Harrington-trained star who relished the stamina test more. That relish was especially significant considering how for much of the race Jezki’s quality looked likely to scupper his chances of lasting home.
Ridden for just a second time by owner JP McManus’s Irish-based jockey Mark Walsh, Jezki travelled almost too well in places such was the ease with which he coped with the pace over the longer distance.
Hurricane Fly spent much of the last circuit stalking him and ordinarily Jezki might have been expected to feel the effects of his earlier exuberance once going into virgin trip-territory.
Familial reassurance though appeared at the second-last flight in the shape of his half-brother Jetson who enjoyed his finest hour in the race a year previously and briefly made an impudent bid to put his kid-brother in his place by kicking for home early.
Out of the money when defending his Cheltenham crown, and fortunate to win the Aintree Hurdle after Arctic Fire’s final flight fall, he looked back to his brilliant best here.
It’s doubtful if that’s not coincidental with some Spring sunshine on his back but some bookmakers reckon the three mile test wasn’t irrelevant either and Jezki is a 5-1 favourite to become the first Champion Hurdle winner to also pick up the stayers’ crown at Cheltenham next year.
“He’s very straight-forward but he does love a bit of sun on his back and even though he was free, he jumped brilliantly and the three miles didn’t look to be a problem. All the family do stay very well,” said Harrington.
Just three weeks after Tony McCoy secured his penultimate Grade 1 success on Jezki at Liverpool, Walsh took over in the hot-seat and won’t have done his claims in the succession stakes to the legendary former champion any harm with this display.
“He travelled too well. He settled okay over the first two or three but then got very free. He was in my hands for a whole circuit and must be some horse to win. It just shows his class got him through,” said the man who picked up a one-day ban for his use of the whip on Jezki and won earlier on Jacksonslady. “It’s a good way to come back.”
Hurricane Fly could still go to France in June for the Champion Hurdle at Auteuil and Willie Mullins said: “He didn’t jump as well as Jezki at one or two, and lost a length or two that we couldn’t get back. That’s all that’s between them, a jump here or there.”
In the circumstances then it wound up far from straight-forward as the English raider Just Cameron briefly threatened to challenge before the last and ultimately wound up only three lengths off the Arkle winner who remains as low as 5-4 favourite for next year’s two-mile crown.
Willie Mullins conceded to a stab of worry in the straight but added: “Once Ruby (Walsh) shook him up he was fine. But I would be wary of running him on ground that fast again. He made one or two jumping errors but I would say he was feeling the ground. We’ll give him a summer’s grass now and make a plan from the Spring back.”
At 14, Uncle Junior scored a second La Touche success to add to his 2012 triumph when edging a memorable finish with Quantitiveeasing while Patrick Mullins brought up his own double, and his father’s five-timer, equalling his tally on the same day two years ago, on board the favourite Yorkhill in the bumper.