By Simon Jackson.
Jessica Harrington anticipates ‘another big race’ from defending champion Jezki in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, the feature race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
Jezki prevailed by a neck in the extended two mile contest last year and Harrington reports that the seven-year-old’s preparation has gone smoothly ahead of his return to Cheltenham on March 10.
Harrington’s charge has been forced to settle for place money in three races this campaign, that have all been won by dual Stan James Champion Hurdle winner Hurricane Fly.
Jezki was reportedly fancied by connections to reverse the form in the Irish Champion Hurdle three weeks ago after running Hurricane Fly to a half-length at his previous start, only to make a mistake at the last fence and fade into third place.
“It was a fantastic day when Jezki won the Champion Hurdle. He kicked on from the top of the hill and basically stayed there,” Harrington said on Thursday at media visit organised by Cheltenham Racecourse.
“Everything is going smoothly and if we can get him there in the same form, he will run another big race.
“You can argue that he has had a better season this time around than he did going into last year’s Champion Hurdle because he has finished closer to Hurricane Fly on two occasions.
“He has not had any hard races and seems to like Cheltenham in the spring of the year.
“Cheltenham is a great place and some horses light up and really enjoy the atmosphere. Jezki is one of those and he loves all the attention.
“I think it is hard to say if the Champion Hurdle is a better race this year. I thought it was tough last year but the races at the Cheltenham Festival are always tough.”
Harrington has labelled the unbeaten even-money favourite Faugheen as the greatest danger to Jezki, who is currently best-priced at 6-1.
“I think Faugheen is the one to beat,” Harrington continued. “All right, you have The New One as well but Faugheen has easily beaten everything put in front of him and is the unknown quantity.
“Faugheen is the young horse coming up – just as we were last year – and I always fear the younger horses more than the older ones. You could argue that he has not beaten anything but he can only beat what is put in front of him.
“There is also Hurricane Fly and I know Willie [Mullins – trainer] still loves him to death.
“Hurricane Fly is a hard horse to beat in his own country. Maybe we should have beaten him [this season] and that means we are not as good as we think we are. But I think Jezki is good.
“A P McCoy is J P McManus’ first jockey and I assume he will ride Jezki. It will be A P’s last Champion Hurdle and it would be great if the pair could win it.
“He is a fantastic rider and has pushed the boundaries in riding and endurance. It would be a fairytale if he could win some of the championships races at Cheltenham next month.”
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