Hughes ‘couldn’t be happier’ with Our Conor

Stan James Champion Hurdle

Hughes ‘couldn’t be happier’ with Our Conor

Our Conor, the runaway winner of last season’s Triumph Hurdle, has twice finished behind Hurricane Fly this season, most recently pushing the 10-year-old all the way in the Irish Champion Hurdle. He has age statistics to overcome, with 2008 hero Katchit the only five-year-old in almost 30 years to take Champion Hurdle glory but Hughes is optimistic of a bold showing.

“I couldn’t be happier with him, everything has gone well,” Hughes said.

“He was never in a battle last year. The first day he ran he needed it and the second day he showed he had guts but probably showed he needed another run.

“It looks like Captain Cee Bee might set the pace, if he does it will be a truly-run race, just what we want.”

Jockey Danny Mullins has not yet ridden a Festival winner, but he is hopeful Our Conor can make his presence felt. He said: “He maybe beat lesser opposition than we’re taking on now, but I’m happy the way he’s come through his trials and we know a lot more now.

“It was a very tactical affair last time, no one wanted to bottom their horses out before Cheltenham. He’s been very good and showed a lot of speed at Leopardstown the last day, so we’re hopeful.”

For his part, Willie Mullins is confident Hurricane Fly can claim his third victory in four years.

Mullins said: “His preparation has gone well and he has travelled over well. He’s been out this morning and we’re very happy with him.

“He looks very good and appears in good form.

“It is a very hot race, as a Champion Hurdle should be, but we are just focusing on our own horse and we are very happy with where we are with him.”

Like Our Conor, Jezki has finished behind Hurricane Fly on his last two starts, but trainer Jessica Harrington remains in bullish mood.

She said: “I’ve been very pleased with his preparation since his last run.

“All year we’ve only been aiming at one date in March.

“I think I probably did leave a bit to work on, and Barry (Geraghty) is four out of four on him.”

With Tony McCoy, retained jockey for McManus, siding with My Tent Or Yours, Geraghty gets on Jezki for the first time since an emphatic victory at last year’s Punchestown Festival.

He said: “He’d definitely have a chance. I suppose he’d have to improve on his last run but he was a very good novice.”

It is six years since the 13-year-old Captain Cee Bee won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and he is a three-figure price.

Trainer Eddie Harty said: “His preparation has been very good and if he can repeat his Leopardstown run, he will have a squeak.”

The horse rated by bookmakers as the biggest threat to Hurricane Fly’s crown is The New One, trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies and ridden by his son, Sam.

The six-year-old has won twice from three starts this season and was last seen running fellow Champion Hurdle candidate My Tent Or Yours close in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day, despite fluffing his lines at the final obstacle.

Twiston-Davies snr said: “Preparations have gone smoothly and it must be a plus that he has done so well at the course.

“I think it’s the hottest (Champion Hurdle) there has been for a very long time, I don’t know anything about the Irish horses, we haven’t run against them at all but they’re obviously a very strong team and we’ll have to be at our best.

“I don’t think his jumping’s a problem, it was just such a shame he met that one hurdle wrong (at Kempton). I’m not worried about the pace, a slow pace will hurt the others as much as him.”

His son and stable jockey said: “It’s going to be a serious race, very, very competitive, but I love our horse to pieces, he’s got all the right attributes. He’s so relaxed, just a switched-off horse, but when you give him a kick in the belly or a slap around the shoulder it’s amazing how quickly he can click through the gears.

“We’re going in there with a solid chance — the others will take some beating but we’ll give it our best shot.”

My Tent Or Yours, runner-up behind the Mullins-trained Champagne Fever when a hot favourite for last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, has won the Fighting Fifth, the Christmas Hurdle and a jumpers’ bumper so far this term.

Nicky Henderson, who has saddled five previous winners of the Champion Hurdle, said: “He had a good start to the year winning his two Grade Ones and a rather innocuous Flat race at Kempton, where I was more chuffed with him in that than the Christmas Hurdle, and so was AP (McCoy).

“The Christmas Hurdle was good, it showed there’s not very much between him and The New One and they are the best of the Brits. Hurricane Fly is still the one to beat. Each year we come in here and everyone is trying to find reasons to beat him.

“There are some pretenders this year, a lot of them.

“I still have a lot of respect for Jezki and I have huge respect for Our Conor — I still think he could be the one, he’s the horse I’m very frightened of.”

More in this section


Latest news from the world of sport, along with the best in opinion from our outstanding team of sports writers

Sign up

Select your favourite newsletters and get the best of Irish Examiner delivered to your inbox