Meade trio on course for Champion Hurdle bid

NOEL MEADE’S Iktitaf, Harchibald and Jazz Messenger are all on course for the Smurfit Champion Hurdle, with the latter most likely to contest the AIG Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on January 28.

Iktitaf was last seen finishing second to champion hurdler Brave Inca in the December Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 29, when he travelled well behind the eventual winner before being unable to match his rival on the run-in.

His trainer Meade though has been happy with the son of Alhaarth since the race.

“Iktitaf's been in good form, he's come out of the race very well,” said Meade.

“He didn't have too hard a race, I think when Paul (Carberry) got up behind him (Brave Inca) he didn't go too hard on him, so he is a fresh enough horse.

“Whether he runs again before the Champion (Hurdle) I don't know.

“He is entered in the AIG, though there is a possibility that if the ground is too soft there he wouldn't run.

“I'm not that fussed whether he runs again, I don't want to run him on very heavy ground.”

Meanwhile, 2005 Champion Hurdle runner-up Harchibald is back in full work ahead of his Festival bid.

He has been off the track since the Tipperary Hurdle in October through injury, but, like Iktitaf, could run in the AIG Champion Hurdle or go straight to Cheltenham without a run.

“Harchibald pulled a muscle in his hind quarter and it has held him up for a little while.

“He was supposed to run before Christmas in the Fighting Fifth but that stopped him.

“He's back in full work, he's doing strong canters, nothing quicker than that, and he appears to be back to form.

“Again he is entered in the AIG, again he probably won't run because of the ground, I don't want to run him on heavy ground - it's a very similar story to Iktitaf.”

Meade clearly isn't concerned about sending either Iktitaf or Harchibald to Prestbury Park without another run.

“We would probably travel to England with him (Harchibald) if we thought it was possible to get good ground (before the festival) but it's not an absolute necessity, if they have to go straight to Cheltenham then so be it.”

The festive meeting at Kempton proved to be a showcase for a third Meade-trained hurdler, as Jazz Messenger ran out an impressive winner of the Christmas Hurdle.

That run put him firmly in the Champion Hurdle picture, and he is the most likely of the Meade-trio to appear in the AIG Champion Hurdle at the end of the month.

“Jazz Messenger came out of the Christmas Hurdle very well, he's in great shape, again he is entered in the AIG, and at this stage I would say he is likely to run.

“I would like to have at least one runner, and if it goes that way it is likely to be him that takes his chance.

“The long-term plan for him is the Champion Hurdle if all goes well.

“Slippers (Niall Madden) will stay with him, and even if we are left with only one runner I think Slippers will stay with him.”

Meanwhile Dessie Hughes says his star hurdler Hardy Eustace will run two more times before the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

The two-time champion was beaten by Detroit City in the Boylesports International at Cheltenham on his latest start, and he is all set for the AIG Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown later this month.

Hughes was delighted with Hardy Eustace's one length defeat to the Champion Hurdle favourite, and is hopeful his horse can reverse the form come March.

“I was very pleased (with his run at Cheltenham), it showed he's nearly back to himself.

“He'll run now in the AIG, at Leopardstown on the 28th. He'll possibly go to Gowran three weeks after, with nearly 7 weeks between the AIG and Cheltenham he'll need another run in between.

“He has a chance (in the Champion Hurdle), I think Detroit City looks pretty strong, but we'll be five pounds better off when we meet him in March so I think we'll have a chance of beating him.

“We've beaten the other Irish horses before so we must have a chance.”

Hughes wasn't hesitant when asked which horse was the one to beat in the Festival's opening day feature.

“I think Brave Inca will be hardest to beat when we get there.”

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