Jezki heads for the Cheltenham Festival with trainer Jess Harrington expecting a huge run in the defence of his Champion Hurdle crown.
His victory in last year’s race may have been slightly unexpected, but given decent ground and an end to end gallop he certainly proved to be an outstanding two mile hurdler. He confirmed his standing as a champion when following up at Punchestown in May again defeating Hurricane Fly. He may have spent most of this winter chasing Mullins’ star, but many anticipate a change in fortune next week at the home of jump racing.
It promises to be a successful four days for the popular National Hunt Sire Milan. Standing at Grange Stud in County Cork, one of Coolmore’s most successful jumps stallions has a number of his offspring contesting for major prizes.
Milan was retired to stud in 2002 after fracturing his cannon bone in a race at the Curragh. It was his first race of the season as a four-year-old following a terrific campaign at three. He chased home the mighty Galileo in April 2001, before travelling to France and running a close third in the Prix Lupin. A fast finishing fifth in the Prix du Jockey Club he next disappointed slightly in the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot.
A victory in the Great Voltigeur at York propelled him to race favourite for the St Leger at Doncaster. Held up in the race by Mick Kinane, he hit the front a furlong from home before streaking clear. It was a stunning victory for this son of Sadler’s Wells and tempted connections to have a crack at the Arc. The drop in trip seemed to catch him out, though he finished a creditable fifth.
His final start as a three-year-old saw him travel to America for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Held up as always towards the rear of the field, he turned into the straight with plenty to do. Staying on powerfully he just failed to catch Fantastic Light, going down by less than a length. He earned more than £650,000 in his short yet illustrious career.
His offspring often appreciate a sounder surface. Jezki has become one of his most successful, but before him we had the wonderfully talented Darlan. Tragically lost before fulfilling his huge potential, Henderson’s horse was similarly owned by JP McManus.
Apache Stronghold is another son of Milan travelling over the Irish Sea, with hopes high for a big run in the JLT Novices’ Chase. Noel Meade was thrilled with his last appearance at Leopardstown when he got the better of Valseur Lido in a terrific duel. Hoped to be a potential Gold Cup horse, the trainer now believes that around two and a half miles is his optimum trip. He’s a beautiful looking horse, who travels stylishly through his races. His jumping was much slicker last time and he looks sure to go well.
Martello Tower is out of a Zaffaran mare, and as such doesn’t mind getting his hooves mucky. He’s a strong staying type who looks set to run well in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Last seen chasing home Outlander over an inadequate trip, his owner Barry Connell certainly appeared bullish when recently saying: “Martello Tower must have a right chance. At the weights the last day he came out of it just as good as Outlander. The step back up to three miles is what he wants and the hill will be in his favour, too. What he wants is a test of stamina which brings his guts into play.”
It’s fair to say that he has a touch of class to go with the guts, and he heads to the Cotswolds with a great chance.
Sadly one of Milan’s finest will not be taking part at this year’s Festival. Trained by Nicky Henderson, Beat That looked to be one of the best novice hurdlers of last season. He won at Punchestown defeating Don Poli and appeared set for a campaign that would lead to a tilt at the World Hurdle. Unfortunately he has failed to flourish so far this winter, though there’s every chance that his time will come.
For the rest, that time is almost here.