Jezki revved up for Hurricane rematch

Jezki remains on course for another clash with great rival Hurricane Fly in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle back at Leopardstown on January 25.

The latter narrowly outpointed Jessica Harrington’s stable star in a pulsating climax to the Ryanair Hurdle over the festive period, making the score between the pair four wins to two in favour of Hurricane Fly.

Willie Mullins’ incredible 11-year-old was retaining his unbeaten record at Leopardstown, but Harrington has taken plenty of heart from the fact the reigning Champion Hurdle winner pushed him all the way to the line.

The County Kildare handler said: “Everything is good. He’s come out of the race at Christmas well and we’re happy with him.

“He got closer to Hurricane Fly than he ever has before at Leopardstown, so we’ll take him on again at the end of the month.

“We’re happy with where we are and we’ll take things as they come.”

Meanwhile Cheltenham’s Cleeve Hurdle is a possible next port of call for At Fishers Cross after he returned “slightly sore” following his run at Leopardstown over Christmas.

The dual Grade One winner disappointed on his seasonal reappearance at Wetherby, but was sent off favourite to get his season back on track in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown on December 28.

The JP McManus-owned eight-year-old could only manage fourth place, however, having failed to convince in the jumping department, after which a minor problem was discovered and he has remained in Ireland since.

Trainer Rebecca Curtis is looking forward to welcoming her stable star back to Wales this week and the Cleeve Hurdle on January 24 is the next objective.

Curtis said: “He was slightly sore after Leopardstown and something was slightly niggling him. He jumped out to his right, so there was obviously something at him.

“We left him in Ireland for the vets over there to have a look at him and the plan is for him to come home this week.

“We’ll see how he is when we get him home, but if everything is looking good, we could possibly aim him at the Cleeve Hurdle.”

Barrakilla is likely to be saved for the Cheltenham Festival following his fine effort at the Prestbury Park track last month.

The half-brother to classy Irish chaser China Rock was runner-up to Niceonefrankie in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup on ground that was not ideal for him.

Trainer Evan Williams will give the eight-year-old entries in several handicap chases at the big meeting in March.

“He’s grand and he’ll go straight to the Festival, I’d say,” said the Llancarfan handler.

“He wants good ground and it was a bit sticky when he ran there the last day so that’s probably what we’ll do.

“We’ll stick him in all the handicaps and take it from there.”

Dan Skelton pencilled in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury as a potential target for Fascino Rustico after a most impressive debut for the ambitious trainer at Bangor yesterday.

Formerly in the care of Skelton’s great mentor Paul Nicholls, Fascino Rustico flattered to deceive on a few occasions for the champion trainer and failed to complete on two of his final three starts of last season.

With the A Cut Above ’National Hunt’ Novices’ Hurdle appearing a good opportunity for his comeback run, the 9-4 chance jumped fluently in the hands of Ryan Mahon and had far too many gears for his rivals.

Hughesie knuckled down late in the day to try and cut the deficit, but Fascino Rustico passed the post six lengths clear without being extended.

Skelton said: “He was rated 130 going into the race, which put him high up in the reckoning, and I hoped he’d be able to go there and win.

“A clear round was obviously very important. That will have done him the world of good and I fully expect him to go forward from here.

“I don’t know where he’ll go next. I’ve entered him in the Betfair Hurdle, but that is only a possible at this stage.

“I’ll have a chat with John Hales (owner) and make a plan.”

Donald McCain continued his resurgence as 20-1 shot Lough Derg Walk showed plenty of heart to triumph in the Stella Artois Maiden Hurdle.

The Cholmondeley handler endured a difficult start to the campaign, with his horses under the weather for several weeks, but the string appear to have turned the corner.

After successes at Newcastle and Musselburgh in recent days, the Irish point-to-point graduate added to the McCain tally with a three-and-three-quarter-length victory, proving his disappointing bumper debut at Uttoxeter in late October to have been all wrong.

Denis O’Regan, who steered Tony Martin’s Irish raider Delvin Road to finish fourth, was found guilty of “failing to take all reasonable and permissible measures to obtain the best possible placing” by the stewards, who suspended him for 10 days (January 20-29).

Owner Bryan Drew has a couple of live Cheltenham Festival candidates in Kings Palace and Moon Racer and kept the show on the road at a lower level in Wales as Saint John Henry came good in the Bet With Corbettsports Handicap Hurdle.

A 5-1 shot to bounce back from last month’s Huntingdon tumble, he ended up scoring by a length and a quarter from Heathfield. Drew’s son, Harry, said: “We thought he had a good chance at the prices.I think the step up to three miles on a left-handed track has suited him.

“He fell going the way round at Huntingdon last time, but that was over two miles and five furlongs and they just went far too quick.It was good prize-money, so we’re delighted.”

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