Jezki proves the real deal
Jezki stamped his authority on the Racing Post Champion Hurdle at Punchestown to confirm his Cheltenham superiority over Hurricane Fly.
With only three runners going to post it was inevitably a tactical battle, with Tony McCoy setting a sedate pace on Jezki, tracked by Hurricane Fly, with the eventual winner's stable companion Steps To Freedom in third place.
The old champion Hurricane Fly threw down a determined challenge going to the final flight, but could never quite get on terms, and Jezki (4-5 favourite), something of a surprise winner at Prestbury Park, got away quickest and ran on strongly to score by three and a quarter lengths, giving Jessica Harrington another treble on the card.
Only last month, Harrington's husband, Johnny, died aged 77, and McCoy said: "It's great for Jessie, she's had such a great week after such a tough time recently. It was a great training performance.
"To be honest, he felt better than I've ever felt him. Sometimes they get confidence from winning. 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's been absolutely fantastic these last two days, unbelievable. To have three winners on Thursday and then another three is beyond my wildest dreams. I think he (Johnny) is doing a lot of the pushing. All the staff in the yard have done a marvellous job.
"If Jezki was beaten here people would say the Champion Hurdle was a fluke, but he came here and won again, which was fantastic.
"He was very good after Cheltenham and had a good prep for this race. I was happy coming in and everything went according to plan. I just let AP do what he wanted. He's the man in the saddle and is the best in the world, so why give him a plan.
"With today being a buzzy day, with the crowd and everything, the hood definitely helped him. He's only six, a young horse, so he'll stay hurdling for the moment. I would imagine we'll go the same route next year, but it's a long way off. I'm not sure I saw much of the race, I had my eyes closed for most of it!"
Successful owner JP McManus said: "He did it well, but full marks to Hurricane Fly. He has been an outstanding horse, coming here to win this for a fifth time, so we've a bit of catching up to do. It's a great day and it will be memorable one."
Willie Mullins accepted the record-breaking Hurricane Fly was beaten fair and square and indicated he will now be given time off during the summer.
He said: "Jezki is a worthy champion and he's come back well from Cheltenham. Jessie's horses are flying. We have no excuses with Hurricane Fly, that's it for the season and he'll go out for grass now over the summer."