Tombstone drops Jezki to spring surprise for Cooper
A surprising and disappointing defeat for Jezki put a dent in his Cheltenham Festival hopes and led to the 2014 Champion Hurdle winner taking a walk in the market for both his prospective targets next month.
He was not entirely disgraced on ground which would not have been in his favour, but a four-length defeat at the hands of Tombstone off level weights - a horse rated 20lb his inferior - would have to be considered a below-par effort, as would finishing just over a length in front of third home Rashaan, who he was meeting on 36lb better terms than he would have done in a handicap.
If Jezki's trainer Jessica Harrington was disappointed, she was not showing it, saying: "I knew it was a risk coming here on the ground. If you look back at his form, he's never liked heavy ground and has been beaten on it plenty of times.
"If he's alright we'll head to Cheltenham. We'll wait and see what race he goes for and a decision might not be made until a day or two beforehand."
He was pushed out to a best-priced 25-1 for the Stan James Champion Hurdle by Coral and Ladbrokes, and to a best-priced 14-1 for the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle with William Hill.
Tombstone is in danger of being the forgotten horse here but achieved plenty in victory. Having been beaten less than three lengths by Jezki at Navan last month - giving him 6lb - he took advantage of the revised terms and gave Bryan Cooper the perfect return on his first day back since fracturing his pelvis at Punchestown on New Year's Eve.
There seemed little fluke about it as Cooper had the favourite in trouble after the third-last and found a good bit more when pressed at the second-last.
Cooper attributed it to different tactics, saying: "It's great to get it, we've always thought he was a fair horse. They didn't go very quick at Navan last time and Jezki did us for toe coming down to the last, so today I wanted to make sure it was a more strongly run race and I wasn't afraid to take it up three out. The one thing I wanted to do was knock the speed out of Jezki."
Trainer Gordon Elliott added: "I wouldn't be afraid to step him up to two and a half miles.
"I knew he was a lot fitter today than at Navan and I was happy for him to roll on from a long way out. If he was good enough he was good enough, and it worked out."
He added: "He'll go chasing next season. As for the rest of this season we might look at the Aintree Hurdle, but keeping him in one piece for next season is what we want."