Jezki gives Tony McCoy birthday gift
Jezki, ridden by Tony McCoy, confirmed his newly established superiority over Ulster-owned Hurricane Fly by spearheading a second successive Jessica Harrington treble in the Racing Post Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Fears that JP McManus' keen-running six-year-old would be undone in a tactical three-horse race came to nothing. There was certainly a touch of cat-and-mouse about the €200,000 Grade One, but Jezki – a Down Royal Festival winner under McCoy last November – rose above it all to prevail in decisive fashion.
McCoy, who turns 40 tomorrow, said: "To be honest, he felt better than I've ever felt him – sometimes they get confidence from winning.
"It was a great training performance from Jessica.
"It wasn't ideal (making the running). He's a tendency to jump a bit left and it's more exaggerated when he's in front.
"Today he felt like a real Champion Hurdle horse."
Harrington added: "It can be very hard coming here after Cheltenham, because if he got beaten, people would be saying that he won a soft Champion Hurdle," admitted a beaming Harrington after bringing her running tally at the Kildare festival to six wins from 12 races.
"But he has been very good since Cheltenham and I was very happy with him, so it is fantastic to see him go and do it again."
McCoy, having overlooked Jezki in favour of My Tent Or Yours at Cheltenham, was forced to make his own running after it quickly became clear once the tape went up that neither Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly – owned by Rose Boyd of Crossgar and Belfast's George Creighton – nor Robbie Power on Jezki's stable-mate Steps To Freedom would do it for him.
The 19-time champion will celebrate that landmark birthday tomorrow, but the clock in his head still works just fine.
While Jezki raced in his hands from the get-go, he never fought for his head and he hurdled fluently. Walsh sat in his slipstream on Hurricane Fly, stalking his every move.
However, he never looked entirely comfortable, and when he asked the cat to pounce up the straight, he simply didn't have it in his locker to catch his four-year younger rival.
Hurricane Fly, now 10 years old, reached bravely for the last flight in a final desperate attempt to get on terms, but Jezki was already going away from him again. It was a straightforward three-and-a-quarter-length victory in the end.
"I left him to do whatever he wanted," Harrington said when asked if she and McCoy had a plan go-ing out.
"He is one of the best riders in the world."
Mullins, who went on to replicate his colleague's quick treble in the next three races, was magnanimous in defeat. "Jezki is a worthy champion," he said. "We have no excuses."
When asked if Hurricane Fly would be back for more next season, he replied that he hoped he would, and JP McManus' first thought was to pay tribute to the Fly.
"What a great horse is," he said of the vanquished four-time winner of this two-miler.
"He is 10 now so maybe we are not meeting him at his best, but he has been a marvellous horse."
Returned at odds of 4/5, Jezki broke a losing run of 14 beaten Punchestown favourites. He also completed Harrington's 160/1 trio, and the Kildare handler admitted that it felt as though her popular husband Johnny, who recently lost his battle with cancer, was doing his bit.
"I think he must be doing a lot of the pushing," she smiled.
"The last couple of days have been unbelievable – beyond my wildest dreams."
Operating (12/1) and Burn And Turn (7/1) had obliged for her in the previous two chases.
Meanwhile, superstar mare Quevega has been retired following her defeat on Thursday when, for the first time since 2009, the 10-year-old failed to come home in front in the World Series Hurdle.