Super Jezki proves 'better than ever'
McCoy mastery leaves Fly in shade as Harrington notches another treble
Jezki confirmed his newly established superiority over Hurricane Fly by spearheading a second successive Jessica Harrington treble in the Racing Post Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Any fears that JP McManus' keen-running six-year-old would be undone in a tactical three-horse race came to nought.
There was certainly a touch of cat-and-mouse about the €200,000 Grade One, but Jezki rose above it all to prevail in decisive fashion.
"It can be very hard coming here after Cheltenham, because if he got beaten, people would be saying that he won a soft Champion Hurdle," admitted a beaming Harrington after bringing her running tally at the Kildare festival to six wins from 12 races.
"But he has been very good since Cheltenham and I was very happy with him, so it is fantastic to see him go and do it again."
AP McCoy, having overlooked Jezki in favour of My Tent Or Yours at Cheltenham, was forced to make his own running after it quickly became clear once the tape went up that neither Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly nor Robbie Power on Jezki's stablemate Steps To Freedom would do it for him.
The 19-time champion, who described Jezki afterwards as "better today than he ever was," will turn 40 years of age tomorrow, but the clock in his head still works just fine.
While Jezki raced in his hands from the get-go, he never fought for his head and he hurdled fluently. Walsh sat in his slipstream on Hurricane Fly, stalking his every move.
However, he never looked entirely comfortable and when he asked the cat to pounce up the straight, he simply didn't have it in his locker to catch his four-year younger rival.
Hurricane Fly reached bravely for the last flight in a final desperate attempt to get on terms, but Jezki was already going away from him again. It was a straightforward three-and-a-quarter-length victory in the end.
"I left him to do whatever he wanted," Harrington said when asked if she and McCoy had a plan going out. "He is one of the best riders in the world."
Mullins, who went on to replicate his colleague's quick treble in the next three races, was magnanimous in defeat. "Jezki is a worthy champion," he declared. "We have no excuses."
When asked if Hurricane Fly would be back for more next season, he replied that he hoped he would, and JP McManus' first thought was to pay tribute to the brilliant 10-year-old.
"What a great horse is," he said of the vanquished four-time winner of this two-miler. "He is 10 now, so maybe we are not meeting him at his best, but he has been a marvellous horse."
Returned at odds of 4/5, Jezki broke a losing run of 14 beaten Punchestown favourites. He also completed Harrington's 160/1 trio and the Moone handler admitted that it felt as though her popular husband Johnny, who recently lost his battle with cancer, was doing his bit.
"I think he must be doing a lot of the pushing," she smiled. "The last couple of days have been unbelievable – beyond my wildest dreams."
Operating (12/1) and Burn And Turn (7/1) had obliged for her in the previous two chases. Robbie Power didn't share in Thursday's triumphs, but he was excellent on both of those winners.
"This was always the plan, but he disappointed all year on heavy ground," Harrington said of Operating's triumph in the Aon Novice Handicap Chase. "He got his confidence back at Cork last time and he might be a Galway Plate horse."
She went on to suggest that Burn And Turn (7/1) could also be aimed at the Ballybrit showpiece following her battling half-length verdict from She's Got Grit in the Seaniemac.com Mares' Chase.
Things improved for punters after Jezki's success. If he was convincing, fellow odds-on shot Vautour (1/3) was less so in initiating Mullins' 9/1 treble in the Tattersalls Champion Novice Hurdle.
This time it was Walsh's turn to take the bull by the horns, but Vautour didn't appear to relish being in front on his own.
When Apache Stronghold moved menacingly into position at the second-last, he began to look vulnerable, before finally asserting his authority after landing over the last flight.
"He wasn't in great form earlier in the week and had a few easy days, so that might have impacted on him," Mullins admitted of his stunning Supreme Novices' Hurdle hero.
"He certainly wasn't anything like as spectacular as he was at Cheltenham, but maybe that left its mark, too."
The champion trainer added that plans for all of Rich Ricci's rising stars for next season remain fluid, but he has the Galway Hurdle in mind for Arctic Fire.
The narrow County Hurdle runner-up ran out a bloodless winner of the two-mile novice hurdle, justifying odds of 4/5 in the process.
The well-backed debutante Morning Run (10/3 favourite) edged Mullins back in front of Harrington in the trainers' table for the week. Carrigmoorna Rock pressed Patrick Mullins' mount hard in the €100,000 fillies' bumper, but she dug deep to secure the Carlow outfit's seventh success.
Only the hunter chases eluded the Mullins-Harrington duopoly. The KFM-sponsored edition went to the David O'Leary-ridden Rohan's Pride (4/1) for Co Meath-based handler Robert Honner.
McManus' On The Fringe (10/11) readily justified favouritism in the champion equivalent for Nina Carberry and Enda Bolger.
The attendance of 26,282 on Ladies' Day was down a negligible 78 on the 2013 figure.