It was the perfect conclusion to an imperfect campaign.
In his first attempt over three miles, Jezki finished his season by winning his second successive Grade One, the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle, at Punchestown yesterday.
In doing so he closed the gap in his personal duel with Hurricane Fly to 6-3 and opened up the tantalising prospect of a tilt at the Cheltenham equivalent next March.
It was a pleasing finale to a slightly curious campaign that saw Jessica Harrington’s stable star beaten three times by an opponent four years his senior in Hurricane Fly before surrendering his Champion Hurdle when finishing a disappointing fourth to the brilliant Faugheen at Cheltenham. Hurricane Fly, inevitably, was one of those ahead of him at Prestbury Park. Even his subsequent victory in the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle came with a caveat as Arctic Fire looked to be getting the better of the argument before a crashing fall at the last allowed Jezki to cruise unchallenged to a seventh Grade One.
It wasn’t supposed to be that way. At this festival a year ago, Jezki followed up victory in the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle by making all to record a three and a quarter length victory over ‘The Fly’. The sky seemed the limit and few would have believed that, at this late stage of his career, Hurricane Fly could turn the tide. That he did is a tribute to his tenacity, toughness and class but it’s also hard to escape the sense Jezki – until his last two starts, at least – hasn’t kicked on as expected this season.
However, in finally beating his old foe this season, Jezki put his best foot forward yesterday, seeing out the three-mile trip in impressive style. Harrington, understandably, was keen to accentuate the positives.
“Up until the last two races you’d basically have said he’d had a disappointing season but he’s now ended up winning two Grade Ones so you can’t say that’s a bad season,” she said.
“Things just didn’t go right (at Cheltenham). It was run at a slow pace; Ruby dictated it (on Faugheen) and Jezki was probably a bit keen. AP (McCoy) said when he came in that if he’d ridden him to be second he’d have finished second.
The 17,435 attendance at Punchestown yesterday basked in glorious sunshine and Harrington suggested the weather perhaps offers an explanation as to Jezki’s tendency to underwhelm until the back end of the season.
“He’s an amazing horse for me to have. He’s basically very straightforward but he does like the spring of the year when he gets the sun on his back and a bit of good ground. He’s definitely a different horse then.”
Harrington hailed Mark Walsh for giving Jezki “an absolutely unbelievable ride” and said she was always confident the seven-year-old would stay the trip.
“The family all stay well,” she said. “We’d been beaten by Faugheen, we’d been beaten by Hurricane Fly all winter and we’d been beaten by Arctic Fire until Aintree so we thought we’d reroute and try something new.
“He jumped brilliantly and he lasted every inch of the way. Three miles doesn’t seem to be any problem to him.”
Bookmakers clearly felt the same, with Paddy Power cutting Jezki from 12/1 to 5/1 favourite for the Cheltenham World Hurdle.
Harrington was less keen to look that far into the future.
“I don’t know what trip he’ll run over next season, it’s a long way off,” she said. “Today was really great and we’ll see what happens after today. Let’s see what next season brings.”
Hurricane Fly may have fallen narrowly short but it was still another day to savour for Willie Mullins as the Closutton maestro recorded a five-timer, the highlight being the triumph of the evergreen 14-year-old Uncle Junior in the La Touche Cup.
But the day belonged to Jezki and Harrington. Roll on round 10.
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