Stayers' hope Jezki seems 'as good as ever' ahead of return
1.05 Navan card
Race Displays Event Signage Hurdle | 2m | ATR
Where can you find the 2014 Champion Hurdle hero, the two-time winner of the Irish Gold Cup and a 14-length winner of a premier handicap on the Flat? The answer is in the 1.05 at Navan on Saturday afternoon.
The two-mile contest has attracted a pick 'n' mix of stars, the juiciest of the lot being Jezki, a horse who bravely fought off My Tent Or Yours to win the Champion Hurdle almost three years ago. Since then the son of Milan has been moulded into a staying hurdler, and he got the better of old foe Hurricane Fly in a Grade 1 over three miles at the Punchestown festival on his most recent start.
The problem is that his most recent outing was in April 2015, 632 days ago, and he spent all of last season and the first half of this one on the sidelines.
However, trainer Jessica Harrington says she is seeing all the right signs at home and hopes are high that he can rediscover his old zest and stake a claim for the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham, for which he is a top price of 14-1.
"I'm really looking forward to getting him back out but obviously I am nervous too," Harrington said. "It is a funny old race with so many ifs, buts and maybes about everything, and most of them have not run for absolutely ages. It is impossible to know what is going to happen."
She added: "What I do know is that he seems as good as ever at home and I have been delighted with him. We have a vague plan in our heads about where we want to go and the Red Mills at Gowran Park (Saturday, February 18) might be next up. But, we will get this out of the way first. I would be worried about the ground as I have a feeling it will be sticky."
Gordon Elliott probably presumed he would be talking about Tombstone as an Arkle contender right now but things have not gone to plan for last season's Supreme Novices' Hurdle fourth, and chasing plans have been put on hold.
"We have got to start somewhere and this is where he has ended up," Elliott said. "We have put chasing on hold for the time being and it will be interesting to see how he gets on. He will need the run but he seems in good form at home."
For Carlingford Lough, this return to action is a stepping stone for the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown next month - a race he has won for the last two years.
"He seems in good form at home and it is nice to get him back to the track," said his trainer John Kiely.
And, what of Willie Mullins' two representatives? Renneti is hit and miss but when he is on a going day he is a class act. He was certainly on song when storming clear up the home straight to win the October Handicap by 14 lengths at Naas, and his hurdle rating of 149 tells you that he is a classy hurdler too.
The Irish champion trainer also runs Sure Reef, who returned from almost three years off the track to take third behind Supasundae at Punchestown on New Year's Eve. He should not be underestimated.
The presence of the tearaway Alisier D'Irlande will ensure there is no hiding place and some of his form over fences is not to be sniffed at.
The seven-runner field is completed by recent Limerick winner Indian Monsoon. He relishes heavy ground and will welcome any drop of rain that falls.