Hughes retains faith in Conor

Dessie Hughes is confident Our Conor will head to the Cheltenham Festival with a “fighting chance” of claiming Champion Hurdle glory after making Hurricane Fly pull out all the stops at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Hughes retains faith in Conor

Last year’s devastating Triumph Hurdle winner was firmly put in his place by Hurricane Fly in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, but with improvement expected, connections were keen to have another crack at Willie Mullins’ superstar in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle.

For a brief moment after touching down after the final flight Our Conor looked set to dethrone the champion, but Hurricane Fly roared back on the run-in to secure his fourth successive Irish Champion Hurdle crown and his 19th Grade One in all.

Having got significantly closer to Hurricane Fly than he had done a month earlier, Hughes can see no reason why Our Conor could not get the better of the dual Champion Hurdle hero when they meet for a third time at Prestbury Park in March.

Hughes said: “He’s come out of the race absolutely fine and I’m very happy with where we are with the horse.

“We were a bit disappointed as it looked as though he might have it won at one stage, but I’m thrilled he improved, which I thought he would.

“He’s just a bit young and for a five-year-old to do that, I think was a tremendous performance.

“He was nearly the last horse off the bridle which was a fantastic feat in itself beside that horse (Hurricane Fly).

“For three or four strides after the last I thought we had him but the other old boy just wore him down.

“Being a young horse, he should improve and I think Cheltenham improved him last year; he was definitely a stone better horse last year at Cheltenham. He appeared to love the track (at Cheltenham) and he’s definitely a better horse on better ground. All in all, I think we’ll be going to Cheltenham more optimistic than pessimistic and he must go there with a fighting chance.”

Jessica Harrington meanwhile admits Jezki ran far too free to do himself justice when finishing a close-up last of four in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle.

The four-times Grade One winner was second behind Hurricane Fly in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival and having encountered some trouble in running, connections were optimistic of at least getting closer to Willie Mullins’ charge at the Foxrock track on Sunday.

However, the six-year-old pulled for his head for much of the two-mile journey in the hands of Tony McCoy and his exertions clearly took their toll as he was even unable to get by his pacemaker Captain Cee Bee.

Jezki was still only beaten little over three lengths and Harrington is happy to let her charge take on Hurricane Fly and Sunday’s runner-up Our Conor again in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Harrington said: “He’s come out of the race absolutely fine. There’s not a bother on him.

“We decided to drop him in, that was the plan and he just ran too free and too keen. I was very happy with the way he jumped, I thought he jumped very well, but you can’t run as keen as that in a race like that.

“He still wasn’t beaten far and all being well he’ll be there at Cheltenham in March.”

Enda Bolger insists connections are in no rush to decide whether to let Saturday’s Hurdle winner Gilgamboa bid for another major prize in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on February 8.

The JP McManus-owned six-year-old was among the leading contenders for Saturday’s valuable handicap following a narrow triumph at Punchestown on New Year’s Eve and ran out an impressive winner in the hands of Mark Walsh.

With the Betfair Hurdle coming up only a fortnight later, Bolger is keen to see how his lightly-raced charge recovers before committing to any targets.

The trainer said: “He has come out of the race in good nick and we won’t be making any decision with him (in regards to Newbury) until the end of the week.

“He is in good form after Leopardstown but there will be no decision made for another week.”

Bolger also declared his satisfaction with the performance of Quantitativeeasing in a point-to-point in Nenagh, County Tipperary on Sunday.

The nine-year-old finished third in a race won by Burren River, with former Lexus Chase winner Pandorama splitting the pair in second.

Bolger said: “We were pleased with him. He hadn’t raced since the Kerry National so he had his first run back and it will do him the world of good.

“He might now go for the Hunters Chase at Leopardstown (the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunters Chase on February 9).”

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