Jezki and Walsh see off old rival Fly in impressive style
Mark Walsh did his prospects of being appointed AP McCoy's successor as JP McManus' retained rider no harm with a beautifully composed steer to guide Jezki to a decisive triumph over his nemesis Hurricane Fly in the World Series Hurdle.
Between them the winners of three Champion Hurdles, the old adversaries were exploring uncharted territory in relation to the Ladbrokes-sponsored Grade One's three-mile trip. Neither wanted for stamina, but, as had been the case here over two miles in 2014, Hurricane Fly simply couldn't match Jezki when the gloves came off.
A three-parts brother to last year's winner and his Jessica Harrington-trained stable-mate Jetson, Jezki followed up his slightly fortuitous Aintree Hurdle success with what was a pretty straightforward length-and-three-quarters defeat of Hurricane Fly.
"That was brilliant," Harrington beamed. "I was hoping that Jezki would stay and I was a little worried because he was tanking with Mark, but he settled enough to get home. Mark gave him a terrific ride. We said we'd try something new with him, and he does like spring of the year. He has been an amazing horse for me - he is very special."
Walsh certainly excelled in helping Jezki (5/2) redress the balance in head-to-head clashes with Hurricane Fly to a more respectable 6-3. He initially tracked the 11-year-old aboard his four-year younger foe towards the rear.
When the pace dropped with just over a circuit to go, Jezki started to lengthen his rider's arms and promptly carried him past Hurricane Fly.
Jetson still led him around the final bend, but, when he wilted, Walsh didn't wait for Hurricane Fly to get close to him, easing Jezki clear coming to the last. The €200,000 contest had been billed as a straight duel. While the cream certainly rose to the top, Jezki's superiority ensured that the anticipated dust-up never really materialised.
Walsh, a quietly spoken 29-year-old whose reliability and low-profile could make him an appealing option for promotion after an impressive few years as McManus' chief Irish-based rider, deserves immense credit for that.
"He latched onto the bit when they slowed it down," he explained after Jezki's third win in a row at the Kildare festival. "I was worried that he might pay for that so I was surprised at how well he did it. He must be some horse."
Ruby Walsh felt that the drying ground didn't help Hurricane Fly's cause, and Willie Mullins didn't rule out a tilt at the French Champion Hurdle in Auteuil in June for him. "He wasn't as fluent as Jezki at a few hurdles down the back and that might have been because of the ground," he reiterated. "It was Jezki's turn today."
The rest of the day belonged to Mullins, who doubled his tally for the week with a barnstorming 3,273/1 five-timer. He netted a record 13 winners in 2013 and 15 in 2015 is not beyond him.
The drying ground also doubtless played a role in Un De Sceaux's slightly flat - by his own formidable standards - three-length victory in the Ryanair Novices' Chase. "He was happy enough taking off but he wasn't too keen on landing on that ground," the champion jockey elect said of the 1/10 shot. "The sun is blazing down so it's drying out."
Mullins and his son Patrick, who completed a double in the bumper on Yorkhill (5/4 fav), got a real kick out of Uncle Junior's tenacious neck defeat of Quantitativeeasing in the La Touche Cup. The oldest runner in the field at 14 years of age, Uncle Junior (6/1) also won the prestigious banks race in 2012.
"This fellow is a hero of a horse," Mullins said of the stable stalwart.
Danny Mullins got in on the act with his second winner of the week for his uncle on the 20/1 shot Avant Tout in the three-mile hurdle, while Paul Townend led home a one-two-three for the all-conquering outfit in the mares' hurdle on Whiteout. She was the least fancied of the trio in the market at 8/1 but that seems to matter little.
David Mullins, another of the champion trainer's nephews, once again showed why he is in increasing demand by getting Liam Cusack's heavily-backed Bog War (5/2 fav) up on the line to deny A Sizing Network by a head in the opening handicap hurdle.
Mark Walsh then initiated a 37.5/1 brace when Jacksonslady (10/1) rallied bravely to draw clear of Upazo in the handicap chase. Philip Dempsey revealed that McManus' 10-year-old mare will soon be off to stud, possibly taking in the Galway Plate on the way.
Walsh's double took him to within five of the summit of the riders' championship, having led the field by nine prior to injury intervening in February. He is destined to lose that war, but his triumph in yesterday's showpiece battle amounted to some pretty sweet consolation.
Attendance on the day came in at 17,435, up 8pc on 2014.