Hurricane Fly's Northern Ireland owners grounded as Jezki soars at Punchestown
Hurricane Fly's Ulster owners will consider what the future holds for their champion following defeat to old rival Jezki in the Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle on day three of the Punchestown Festival.
Hurricane Fly is owned by Rose Boyd from Crossgar and Belfast's George Creighton. And Mrs Boyd had plenty to cheer on day two when Killultagh Vic - which she part owns - romped home in the Grade One Novice Hurdle.
Willie Mullins has known many great days with Hurricane Fly - two Cheltenham Festival Champion Hurdles stand out among a record 22 Grade One victories - but the champion trainer was philosophical about defeat in the £175,000 showpiece.
"I was happy. He probably wasn't as fluent down the back as he can be and that's where the race was won and lost," he said of the 11-year-old veteran, four years Jezki's senior.
"He didn't let fly at them and Jezki did and he just lost a couple of lengths which he couldn't get back.
"It just shows that there is only a couple of lengths between them whatever the trip," he said.
"It was a good race. They both turned in with a chance and it was Jezki's day."
The brilliant Fly had got the better of his opponent on each of their four previous meetings this year, but this represented a different test for both horses as the pair encountered three miles for the first time.
Jezki wowed local racegoers when winning the big WKD Hurdle at the 2013 Down Royal Festival under a quality ride by recently-retired Ulster legend Tony McCoy.
The Moneyglass ace then famously gave up the ride in preference to My Tent Or Yours in the Champion Hurdle - and was beaten into second by Jezki, who had too much on this occasion for runner-up Hurricane Fly.
Jezki's rider Mark Walsh said: "He travelled too well if I'm honest. He settled fine early but something lit him up. He's some horse to win despite that. His class got him through."
Winning owner JP McManus said: "It's nice to beat the Hurricane, but he's such a marvellous horse. When you think of all the Grade Ones he's won, he's been the best hurdler for a long time. It's nice to beat him.
"At least we know he gets three miles. We thought he would. I didn't think stamina would be a problem, I thought Hurricane Fly would be his problem!"
Trainer Jessica Harrington added: "That was brilliant. He's an amazing horse. He's basically very straightforward.
"At Cheltenham things didn't go right for him (when fourth in the Champion Hurdle). It was run at a slow pace, Ruby (Walsh) dictated (on Faugheen) and he was probably a bit keen.
"AP (McCoy) said that if he'd rode him for second he would have been second but he was trying to win the race and it didn't work out.
"Up until the last two runs it would have been a disappointing season but he's won two Grade Ones now so we can't say it's too bad."