Hurricane Fly set to bloe Jezki away
Hurricane Fly gets the chance for revenge against Jessica Harrington's newly crowned champion hurdler Jezki at Punchestown today.
Hurricane Fly, owned by Rose Boyd from Crossgar and Belfast's George Creighton, was fourth behind Jezki when going for a Champion Hurdle hat-trick at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Steps To Freedom, a likely pace-maker from Harrington's stable, is the only other runner, in essence rendering it a Grade One match.
Given that there is €200,000 up for grabs and €6,000 allocated down to sixth place, that is a dismal turnout.
It is a situation fed by the fact that there are three separate Grade Ones for novices, as well as a mares' equivalent tomorrow.
When there are so many valuable options, there is simply no incentive for many of the best horses to take each other on, especially when so many reside in the same yard.
Willie Mullins is entitled to spread the riches if the programme facilitates as much, but the inclusion of Annie Power, Faugheen or Vautour would have lent added intrigue to this two-mile feature.
As it is, Hurricane Fly faces just one meaningful rival under Ruby Walsh in his bid to claim his 20th top-level success, while Ulster great AP McCoy pulls rank at Barry Geraghty's expense on JP McManus' rising star, which prevailed in a Champion Hurdle in the Cotswolds that raised as many questions as answers.
The youth in Jezki's legs enabled him to draw readily clear of Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham.
That may be the end result again, but the new champion isn't entirely straightforward.
He got the strong pace that suits him best at Prestbury Park, as he did when Champagne Fever set the fractions here in 2013. Tactics will be key, as he needs to settle and he needs a truly run race.
Maybe Steps To Freedom will set a proper pace and he will follow. That might work, but he would then be the hare to Hurricane Fly's fox, and there are few more wily duos than the 10-year-old and Ruby Walsh.
Hurricane Fly twice had his measure in similar circumstances earlier in the campaign, while he hasn't been beaten in Ireland since 2009. He is no spent force and any rainfall would suit him.
Hurricane Fly is fancied to do Jezki – a winner under McCoy at the Down Royal Festival in November– for toe at the finish.
Discussions are set to take place in the next few days on the future of Quevega with the brilliant mare looking likely to have run her last race after Jetson's shock win in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle at Punchestown yesterday.
Fresh from landing the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival for the sixth successive year, the Mullins-trained Quevega was 9-10 favourite to secure a fifth victory on the bounce in this three-mile Grade One contest.
She travelled with her usual zest for much of the journey, but Ruby Walsh was hard at work from the home turn.
Jetson, a winner at Downpatrick 18 months ago, had already stolen a march on his rivals at the top of the straight and while Quevega did her best to reel him in after the final flight, Harrington's runner had enough in reserve to score by a length and a quarter in the hands of an inspired Davy Russell, who rode a treble on the day.
At Fishers Cross was third under McCoy, who turns 40 on Sunday, as the 10-year-old Quevega suffered her first defeat since 2009, and the curtain now looks set to come down on her record-breaking career.
Mullins said: "Things didn't go great for Quevega in the race at all, but full marks to the winner.
"I thought she didn't get much luck in running and Davy rode a good race. He got a good run and it proved a winning run.
"I'll speak to the owners but I'd imagine this was her last race. She's a special mare and it would be hard to repeat what she's done.
"We'll always be trying to buy one like her but you can't replace her."
Winning rider Russell said: "Jessica had him in great order and I got a great spin off him.
"We didn't think he'd be good enough to beat the mare, but we thought he'd run well. All credit to the team."
Harrington said: "That was absolutely fantastic and a bit of a surprise. I didn't think in my wildest dreams he'd win, but he's run out of his skin."