Faugheen the big concern as Jezki prepares defence

WE'LL MEET AGAIN: Hurricane Fly ridden by Ruby Walsh, left, beats Jezki andTony McCoy in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA.
WE'LL MEET AGAIN: Hurricane Fly ridden by Ruby Walsh, left, beats Jezki andTony McCoy in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last month. Picture: Brian Lawless/PA.
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JESSICA HARRINGTON believes Jezki is on track to successfully defend his Stan James Champion Hurdle crown, and nominated the unbeaten Faugheen as the horse to beat.

One of Ireland’s leading trainers, Harrington also confirmed that the soon-to-retire AP McCoy was almost certain to ride the JP McManus-owned hurdler at Cheltenham on March 10.

McCoy’s record on Jezki is not the greatest by his own exacting standards – three wins from seven starts – and it was Barry Geraghty, a long-time stalwart of the Harrington yard, who partnered the horse to victory in last year’s Champion Hurdle.

There had been speculation that Geraghty would keep the mount – it is probable that he will succeed McCoy as retained rider to McManus – but Harrington has played this down.

“AP McCoy is JP McManus’s first jockey and I assume he will ride Jezki. It will be AP’s last Champion Hurdle and it would be great if the pair could win it,” she said.

“He is a fantastic rider and has pushed the boundaries in riding and endurance. It would be a fairytale if he could win some of the championship races next month.”

As for Jezki, Harrington is unperturbed that her horse has come out second best on three occasions this season to the Willie Mullins-trained superstar Hurricane Fly, who will be bidding for a third Champion Hurdle on March 10 as the 11-year-old looks to add to his world record tally of 22 Grade One wins.

However, it is the form of Hurricane Fly’s stablemate Faugheen, now unbeaten from eight starts, that has been catching the trainer’s eye.

“I think Faugheen is the one to beat. All right, you have The New One as well but Faugheen has easily beaten everything put in front of him and is the unknown quantity,” she said.

“Faugheen is the young horse coming up – just as we were last year – and I always fear the younger horses more than the older ones. You could argue that he has not beaten anything, but he can only beat what is put in front of him.

“There is also Hurricane Fly and I know Willie still loves him to death. Hurricane Fly is a hard horse to beat in his own country. Maybe we should have beaten him and that means we are not as good as we think we are, but I think Jezki is good.

“Everything is going smoothly. You can argue that he has had a better season this time around than he did going into last year’s Champion Hurdle because he has finished closer to Hurricane Fly on two occasions.

“Cheltenham is a great place and some horses light up and really enjoy the atmosphere. Jezki is one of those.”