Jezki bursts Champagne bubble
Jessica Harrington's star Jezki got back on the winning trail with a scintillating display in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.
Unbeaten in his first four starts over timber, the five-year-old (2-1) beat the Willie Mullins-trained Champagne Fever earlier in the season but was only third behind the same opponent in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham last month.
With the scores even, the pair renewed rivalry in this Grade One event and even-money favourite Champagne Fever was once again sent straight to the lead, but while he shook off his opponents at Prestbury Park, Jezki travelled noticeably best rounding the home turn this time and soon asserted under Barry Geraghty.
He safely negotiated the final flight to seal a comfortable victory by 16 lengths, with County Hurdle winner Ted Veale beating Champagne Fever to the runner-up spot.
Stan James cut Jezki to 8-1 from 16-1 for next year's Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham following his romp and Harrington confirmed he is likely to remain over the smaller obstacles next season.
Asked why her charge was able to improve so significantly on his Cheltenham run, the trainer replied: "I honestly don't know. I thought he was 100% going to Cheltenham, maybe he didn't like the cold weather, maybe it was the travelling or maybe it was the hill.
"He took a chance at the second (hurdle) today, but he settled great and just accelerated past them. He's only done one piece of work since Cheltenham. We've done very little with him, but he's a wonderful horse to train.
"I haven't spoken properly to Mr (JP) McManus (owner), but I would imagine he will stay at two miles over hurdles next season."
Mullins was at a loss to explain Champagne Fever's disappointing display. The trainer said: "He didn't seem to jump with such fluency today. He missed three or four down the back. Ruby (Walsh) thought they'd gone a fair gallop and I don't know what happened. He just didn't fire."
The Mouse Morris-trained Rule The World was pulled up injured after jumping just three flights and Eddie O'Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud, said: "He's with the vets at the moment and we're not quite sure. It could be his pelvis."