Champion Hurdle contenders shake off the summer

Jezki - Champion Hurdle contender?

Jezki - Champion Hurdle contender?

The early winter market for the Champion Hurdle next March is starting to take shape, with The New One firmly established as favourite for the race on the opening day of the Festival.

His promotion came as no surprise after he disposed of Rock On Ruby by an easy ten-length margin at Kempton last month. Jockey Sam Twiston-Davies said after the race, “He has got so relaxed that I had to give him a reminder to wake him up, but he was not properly extended and I was slowing him up into the last.”

True, Rock On Ruby wasn’t wearing the blinkers he sported at Cheltenham and Punchestown last season, but that was not the only explanation for such a comprehensive defeat. His trainer, Harry Fry, said that the World Hurdle was a more likely target for his eight year old, and that he would race over a longer distance next time he runs.

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Quite when that will be is anybody’s guess, as Fry thought another operation might be needed. He said, “It’s back to the drawing board for us. There are a few things to get sorted. Possibly we’ll look at his wind again and we could cauterise his palate. If we took that action you wouldn’t see him for a good eight weeks, but until we assess things and do everything to help him then plans are on hold.” No wonder then, that Rock On ruby was pushed out in the Champion hurdle betting from 16/1 to 25/1.

A few days later the Irish challengers began to show their hand. Our Conor was first out, just half an hour after The New One and Rock On Ruby had raced. No hurdles involved here; he ran in a 12-furlong flat race. Although finishing only fourth, four lengths down on the winner, trainer Dessie Hughes was perfectly satisfied with what he saw. He said, “I'm delighted. He travelled well and he ran well. The others have been running all year whereas that's his first run. He'd be 90% fit."

A couple of days later Hurricane Fly popped up, not in a race, but in a gallop at the Curragh. The current Champion pleased trainer Willie Mullins, as he ran alongside Sir Des Champs, Rubi Ball and Annie Power. Mullins said, “It was the first time this season that we took horses away from home to work. Everything went well. They all did a nice half-speed on the sand. Paul Townend rode Hurricane Fly as he usually does when the horse works. He has comeback stronger from his summer break than last year.” He’s currently a best price of 11/2.

Today, another horse reported by his trainer to have strengthened up over the last few months makes his seasonal debut. Jessica Harrington’s Jezki made a poor jump at the last hurdle in the Supreme Novices’ event last season, and as a result could only finish third behind another Mullins horse, Champagne Fever. The tables were turned at Punchestown a month later, with Jezki coming home almost 17 lengths in front.

Harrington hopes he’ll impress in the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle at Down Royal, but recognised he had a lot to do to match The New One. She said, “He’s in great form. I couldn’t be happier with him. He has strengthened up a lot over the summer. The New One looked good. He seems pretty battle hardened already and it was hard not to be impressed.”

There’s a long way to go before March, but at the back of my mind is the fact that Jezki has suffered two of his three defeats at Cheltenham. He should win today, but needs to do so convincingly to shake up the market at all.

My Tent Or Yours separated Champagne Fever and Jezki in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. He’s the only other horse at a single figure price in the Champion Hurdle market, and the only horse yet to be seen this season, and Nicky Henderson hasn’t said for certain when JP McManus’ horse will appear.

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