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Cheltenham Festival: Jezki is aiming to defy the critics

By Richard Forristal

Jezki returns to the scene of his finest hour as he bids to confound the doubters for a second time in this afternoon's Champion Hurdle.

Discarded by AP McCoy 12 months ago before defying him aboard the runner-up My Tent Or Yours, Jessica Harrington's seven-year-old is as big as 9/2 third favourite to retain his crown.

He is hardly a forgotten horse, but the respective exploits of Faugheen and Hurricane Fly this term have overshadowed the reigning champion's less prolific winter campaign.

This time, there was never a question that McCoy would abandon JP McManus' charge in the £400,000 Grade One. Jezki will now have his favoured decent conditions, so it will be fascinating to see if he can reproduce last year's magic for the soon-to-be retired indomitable champion jockey.

Hurricane Fly and Faugheen also have the capacity to bring the house down. In a way, at odds of up to 10/1, Hurricane Fly is another not being given due credit despite his remarkable rejuvenation.

He spearheads a cracking book of rides for Willie Mullins' second jockey Paul Townsend, and any remaining demolition of the old Queen Mother Stand that is being revamped might not be necessary if Hurricane Fly does what no horse has done before by reclaiming the title for a second time at the ripe old age of 11. That would be a simply epic outcome.

Ruby Walsh has put his faith in the rising star Faugheen. Last year's runaway Neptune victor has it all to prove at this level and he needs to jump sharper, but the prospect of him doing so increases with the booking of Walsh.

The New One, which won the same novices' event in 2013, has a score to settle after his luckless third 12 months ago under Sam Twiston-Davies, who has really come of age in Walsh's old role as Paul Nicholls' number one.

It promises to be a suitably thrilling opening day, with Mullins' concerted Cotswolds assault getting under way with a three-pronged attack on the Supreme Novices' Hurdle led by Douvan, which is strongly fancied to get the rousing curtain-raiser off to a good start for the "bankers".

A dubious conception at the best of times, bankers are plentiful today, with Faugheen, Un De Sceaux and Annie Power all seemingly falling into that particular bracket.

The chorus in recent days has been that they cannot all win, but that is also a fallacy. Of course, they can all win - but that isn't to say that they will.

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