Ireland’s top lady trainer Jessica Harrington believes Faugheen is the one to beat as her stable star Jezki builds up for the defence of his Stan James Champion Hurdle crown at Cheltenham on the first day of The Festival, Champion Day, Tuesday, March 10.
Jezki is yet to win in three starts this winter and has seen the tail end of Hurricane Fly on each occasion. The seven-year-old was fancied to reverse the form in the Irish Champion Hurdle (January 25) after running Hurricane Fly to a half-length over Christmas, but made a shuddering mistake at the last and faded into third.
Harrington, speaking today at a media visit organised by Cheltenham Racecourse, said:
“It was a fantastic day when Jezki won the Champion Hurdle. He kicked on from the top of the hill and basically stayed there.
“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.
“I think Faugheen is the one to beat. 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 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, unless he chooses Kitten Rock. 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.”
Jezki’s half-brother Jetson is all set for the Grade One Ladbrokes World Hurdle over three miles on the third day of The Festival, St Patrick’s Thursday, March 12.
The 10-year-old brought to an end Quevega’s nine-race unbeaten streak when denying the great mare by a length and a quarter in Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle at Punchestown in May.
Jetson has proved that was no flash in the pan with two solid efforts in Grade One company this season. He was second to Lieutenant Colonel in the two and a half mile Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse and the pair filled the same positions in the three-mile Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
“Jetson was a revelation last year. In his first run outside handicap company, he beat the great Quevega in the stayers hurdle at Punchestown. I think a lot of the jockeys were looking at each other and forgot he was out in front of them.
“I thought that was a bit of a fluke but he has been second in two Grade One races this year – the Hatton’s Grace and the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
“Davy (Russell, jockey) thought he was going to win going to the last at Faryhouse and I thought he was bit unlucky at Christmas because Lieutenant Colonel – who is a much bigger horse – leant into him the whole way up the straight. I think he was intimidated but he still ran his heart out.
“We have not run him since because he would have a 7lb penalty and he is not a big horse. He will go to Cheltenham and then on to Punchestown again. We might look at Aintree as well because he loves it around there.
“I think the Ladbrokes World Hurdle is very open this year and Jetson loves Cheltenham – he has run well in the Pertemps a couple of times.
“I think the Irish staying form is every bit as good as the form in Britain. We have only seen Beat That once, At Fishers Cross does not look the horse he was, More Of That may not run and Annie Power is probably going for the mares’ hurdle.
“At the age of 10, he has made the transition into graded company, which is quite funny.”
Burn And Turn: “She was second to Road To Riches in the Galway Plate last year, which is obviously quite good form.
“She is going for the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate providing the ground is reasonably good. She has not run since November but that is not a concern because she always runs very well fresh.
“She is a good jumper and won over two miles and five furlongs at Punchestown last year, so I’m hoping it is the right race for her.”
Kabjoy: “She’s a four-year-old filly who won on the Flat and won first time out for over hurdles at Gowran.
“She has had two runs since in graded races and I have entered her in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle. I don’t know what mark she has yet and we will look at that before deciding if she definitely runs.
“She has had a good break since her last run and will like a bit of nice ground. I think she will have a good chance.”
Macnicholson: “He runs in an amateur riders race at Dundalk tomorrow and Kate (Harrington) will ride him. That is his warm up for Cheltenham and we will probably be looking at the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
“Paddy Kennedy will ride if he goes for that. He has ridden Jetson around Cheltenham in the Pertemps, so he has experience.”
Modem: “He is entered in the Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle but I am not sure if he will get in. He is set to run in a novice hurdle at Naas on Sunday and it will depend on how he performs there.
“He was moderate on the Flat but loves jumping. It was a good run in the BoyleSports Hurdle and he was just beaten by a better handicapped horse on the day. The winner had form behind the likes of Annie Power and I think that is good form.”
Rock On The Moor: “She won nicely yesterday but we are making no decision about whether or not she will go for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle until next week.
“I spoke to the owner this morning and we agreed to make no decision for a week. We just want to let the dust settle and see how the race is shaping up.”
Sadler’sflaure: “He is in a couple of handicaps and there is an outside chance he will travel. He runs at Leopardstown on Saturday week and it depends on what happens there.
“He had a good run in Punchestown but then had a disastrous run in the Thyestes and made a bad mistake the last day. I am only really getting to grips with him now.
“He was a good horse in France and had not run for over a year until this season, so it is a learning curve for me.
“They keep telling me he stays but he likes to be up there and I think two mile, five furlongs is his trip.”
Ttebbob: “He is in a couple of handicaps. He is running today (won) and we will see how he gets on.
“He was supposed to go for the Pertemps but was sick when he ran in the qualifier at Christmas so he is not qualified.”
Yours in sport
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