McManus duo too hot for Hurricane Fly as Champion Hurdle marred by fatality
It was a well-worked plan, but at considerable cost. By deploying a pacemaker in the Champion Hurdle, the legendary Irish owner JP McManus ensured the lightning gallop that was always going to suit his two prime contenders Jezki and My Tent Or Yours and saw them fight out the finish.
And that left Ulster-owned Hurricane Fly trailing home in fourth as the bid for a historic Champion Hurdle hat-trick came unstuck.
Jezki – winner of the WKD Hurdle at the Down Royal Festival in November under Tony McCoy – was the surprise winner yesterday.
And Ulster great McCoy was left kicking himself after opting to switch from Jezki to My Tent Or Yours for the big race.
Hurricane Fly – owned by George Creighton from Belfast and Mrs Rose Boyd of Crossgar – just didn't fire in the big £400,000 showpiece but connections are adamant the 10-year-old will be back.
"Hurricane Fly was beaten fair and square but he will go to Punchestown (next month) and we are confident he will be competing for another year or two yet," said Lewis Creighton, representing the owners.
"He's been absolutely fantastic for us over the years."
The speed that contributed to Jezki's thrilling neck defeat of My Tent Or Yours had a grimly literal killing effect.
In trying to match trailblazing Captain Cee Bee's ferocious early charge, the much less experienced Our Conor took a crashing fall at the third flight and, his back broken, could not be saved.
It was a brutal snuffing out of a talent that had shone so brightly here a year ago, when he had come home in dominant isolation in the Triumph Hurdle. But the truth is that if you buy into the glory of this business then the other side of the coin comes along for the ride.
Poor Our Conor's death, such a blow to veteran trainer Dessie Hughes, is sometimes the price the individual must pay for the existence of the breed and the sport.
And the demise of a horse, too, must be put in perspective. It was at this meeting a year ago that amateur jockey John Thomas McNamara sustained the horrific neck injuries that have left him paralysed and still on a ventilator,.
It is likely that Our Conor's fall had a material influence on the result of the race, for another much-fancied runner, The New One, was brought almost to a standstill as he swerved round his stricken rival and did exceptionally well to claim a strong-finishing third place, just two and a half lengths adrift, after being nursed back into the race by Sam Twiston-Davies. His late charge up the run-in relegated the defending champion Hurricane Fly to fourth.
In so many ways, it was an unsatisfactory edition of the two-mile hurdling crown.
But let that not take away from the achievement of the capable and engaging Jessica Harrington, based in Co Kildare, in coaxing Jezki, behind Hurricane Fly and Our Conor in his past two races, back to his best.
Jezki, ridden by Barry Geraghty, took over from Captain Cee Bee two hurdles from home, followed by My Tent Or Yours, with McCoy in the saddle, and Hurricane Fly – Ruby Walsh riding – whose forward move prompted a roar from the stands.
Going to the last the old champion was still there, with Ruby Walsh's jacket one splash of blue among the green and gold army, but on this occasion younger legs tackled the punishing climb to the finish more effectively.
As McCoy launched My Tent Or Yours, from Nicky Henderson's yard, over the last, for a stride or two he must have thought he had it right.
But Jezki, a 9-1 shot, was simply not for passing.
"He's a great little horse," said Geraghty, unbeaten in five rides on the six-year-old. "He's always had good form and he didn't really have a lot to find with the best of them.
"The runner-up was getting to me, for sure, and I needed the line when it came, but he was not giving up for a stride."
Harrington is no stranger to Festival success – she trained the great two-mile chasing champion Moscow Flyer, also ridden by Geraghty – but this was her first Champion Hurdle.
For the first time Jezki wore a cloth hood – in effect ear-muffs – to cut out the extraneous noise that this crucible of an occasion can produce, and that can upset a horse of high mettle.
"It made a big difference as it kept him settled and he got through the preliminaries without getting buzzy," she said.
"It all came right and the fast pace definitely suited him," she added.
Jezki gave McManus his fifth Champion Hurdle victory, after three from Istabraq and one from Binocular, making him the most successful owner in the race's history.
He said: "It has been a very special day."
How day one panned out
1.30pm Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Grade 1 Cl1 2m110y: 1 Vautour (R Walsh/WP Mullins), 7/2jf; 2 Josses Hill (A Tinkler) 14/1; 3 Vaniteux (BJ Geraghty) 11/1; 4 Sgt Reckless (D Elsworth) 33/1). 18 ran.
2.05pm Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase Grade 1 Cl1 2m: 1 Western Warhorse (T Scudamore/D Pipe) 33/1; 2 Champagne Fever (R Walsh) 11/4jf; 3 Trifolium (BJ Cooper) 11/4jf. 9 ran
2.40pm Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase Grade 3 Cl1 3m110y: 1. Holywell (RP McLernon/J O’Neill) 10/1; 2 Ma Filleule (Mr N De Boinville) 33/1; 3 The Package (T Scudamore) 16/1; 4 Green Flag (P Buchanan) 16/1. 23 ran.
3.20pm Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy Grade 1 Cl1 2m110y: 1 Jezki (BJ Geraghty/Mrs J Harrington) 9/1; 2 My Tent Or Yours (AP McCoy) 3/1; 3 The New One (S Twiston-Davies) 10/3. 9 ran.
4.00pm OLBG Mares´ Hurdle Grade 2 Cl1 2m4f: 1 Quevega (R Walsh/WP Mullins) 8/11f; 2 Glens Melody (P Townend) 14/1; 3 L'unique(R Thornton) 25/1; 4 Hidden Identity (R Johnson) 66/1. 16 ran.
4.40pm Terry Biddlecombe NH Chase Amateur Riders´ Novices´ Chase (Listed Race) Cl1 4m: 1 Midnight Prayer (Mr Joshua Newman/A King) 8/1; 2 Shotgun Paddy (Mr Derek O'Connor) 7/2; 3 Suntiep (Mr PW Mullins) 9/1. 15 ran.
5.15pm Rewards4Racing Novices´ Handicap Chase (Listed Race) Cl1 2m4f110y: 1 Present View (Mr BJ Powell/J Snowden) 8/1; 2 Attaglance (B Hughes) 10/1; 3 Pendra (AP McCoy) 8/1; 4 Ahyaknowyerself (S Twiston-Davies) 33/1. 19 ran.