A record opening day attendance of 57,098 spectators witnessed a thrilling finish to the Stan James Champion Hurdle as Jezki prevailed by a neck on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The narrow victory over My Tent Or Yours was all the more notable as both runners are owned by JP McManus who is now the most successful owner in the history of the race, following the successes of Istabraq in 1998, 1999, 2000 and Binocular in 2010.
Jezki, trained in Ireland by Jessica Harrington and ridden by Barry Geraghty, raced close to the pace throughout before fighting well in the run-in to fend off the Nicky Henderson-trained My Tent Or Yours and Tony McCoy.
“I didn’t see much of the final two hurdles because I was doing a lot of jumping up and down and cheering for Barry,” said the delighted Harrington, who believes the winner benefitted from the first time application of a hood.
“Jezki seemed to travel really well and jumped well apart from the fourth-last where he dragged his hind legs, but then he battled like hell up the hill,” she continued.
“Barry said the hood made a big difference in that it got him to settle. I’ve had a lot of luck using hoods this season, and I ride a lot of horses out at home in hoods – anything that is a bit buzzy.
“I felt Jezki’s two previous races were a bit messy and at Christmas if he hadn’t got shut off we might have beaten Hurricane Fly [at Leopardstown]. He also had a few lengths to turn around with My Tent Or Yours compared with last year, but he didn’t jump the last on that occasion.
“He had little bits of excuses in defeat, but today it all came right and the fast pace definitely suited him. It’s big to win any championship races here – I’ve won two Queen Mother Champion Chases, so now I want to put the Gold Cup on my CV, although it will be hard to do.
“Barry has ridden all bar two of my winners at The Festival so we have a good history together and he always seems to ride fantastically well for me. It was a good omen for the week when he rode a winner for me on Sunday.”
Geraghty said: “He is a great little horse. He had good form and we didn’t have an awful lot to find with the best of them. It was a great run by the runner-up and I am sure J P will be delighted to have the first two home.
“I have been riding winners for Jessie since I was 17 or 18-years-old and she has been great to me over the years. She has given me plenty of good horses like Moscow Flyer. It’s brilliant to be back here for her again. The Champion Hurdle is one of the races in the year that you want to win. I had a great run around – he missed the third last, which was the only slight concern I had, but apart from that he was very good.”
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