Jezki – Champion Hurdle or Stayers’ Hurdle?
With several weeks to go before the 2017 Cheltenham Festival gets underway one of the biggest conundrums facing both bookmakers and punters alike concerns those fancied contenders which have more than one entry at National Hunt racing’s extravaganza. In the case of the Willie Mullins-trained VroumVroum Mag, the talented mare will have no fewer than five options at the meeting leading to much speculation as to where the winner of last year’s OLBG Mares Hurdle will eventually be targeted. With that in mind we have tried to predict in which race a couple of leading fancies will eventually run come the second week in March.
1.JEZKI – Winner of the Champion Hurdle back in 2014 the Jessica Harrington-trained nine-year-old could manage only a well beaten fourth behind Faugheen in that race 12 months later leading to a step-up in trip where the son of Milan recorded impressive victories at Aintree and Punchestown before missing all of last season through injury. A length and three quarters defeat of none other than the great Hurricane Fly over three miles on that final start meant that a tilt at Cheltenham’s Stayers’ Hurdle looked the logical long-range target. Returning to action at Navan last month after almost two years off Jezki showed he had lost none of his ability with a comfortable victory under Barry Geraghty. A 16-1 chance with sponsor Stan James for the Champion Hurdle and 8-1 with Skybet Cheltenham offer on the important proviso of Non-Runner No Bet behind 5-2 favouriteFaugheen( Betfair Sportsbook ) and Yanworth ( 5-1 Boylesports ) who, like Jezki, is also in the ownership of JP McManus. The problem is that Ireland’s leading owner is also responsible for Stayers’ Hurdle hot favouriteUnowhatimeanharry( 7-4 Betstars ) so wherever Jezki runs he will be the owner’s second string. The horse is not getting any younger and may have lost the speed of a potential Champion Hurdle winner but such was the merit of that Punchestown win over Hurricane Fly ( 3 miles ) that it could be argued he has stronger form over the trip than the McManus first string. For that reason the Stayers’ Hurdle would be my choice and the 6-1 ( NRNB ) with Bet365 and Skybet looks more than fair.
2.APPLE’S JADE – If going for the OLBG Mares Hurdle on the opening day last season’s Triumph Hurdle runner-up could be one of the bankers of the week at the 2-1 available with Betstars, especially with market rival VroumVroum Mag having so many other options during the four days. Despite two narrow seconds and a victory of VroumVroum Mag this season many have been disappointed with the five-year-old who looked a tremendous prospect after runaway victories at Aintree and Punchestown last April. Also entered for the Champion Hurdle, a return to that kind of form would make the 20-1 ( NRNB ) available with Bet365, Skybet and Paddy Power excellent value. Should the injury-prone Faugheen fail to make the race connections of Apple’s Jade may find the temptation of going for the bigger championship prize too much to resist.