Amidst the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey handicaps and bumpers on the third day of the Punchestown Festival lies a Grade 1 hurdle as fascinating as it is perplexing.
The Ladbrokes World Series Hurdle redefines the terms of engagement for Hurricane Fly and Jezki in their eighth meeting of extended jumps campaign.
It’s a first tilt over 3m for both warriors of the minimum-trip timber game and they will have sure-fire high-class stayers Dedigout (11/2), Lieutenant Colonel (8/1) and Jetson (14/1), who ruined Quevega’s retirement bash in last year’s renewal.
The former champion hurdlers boss the betting on the race with Hurricane Fly 9/4 favourite and the horse he has beaten in six of their seven races together 3/1.
Jezki’s sole victory over Willie Mullins Grade 1-winning machine came at Punchestown last year, but this year is unlikely to see a repeat performance.
Despite his advancing years, Hurricane Fly outperformed Jessica Harrington’s seven-year-old at Cheltenham, with superior hurdling to thank for his finishing one-and-three-quarter lengths ahead of his rival in March.
While the JP McManus-owned gelding was doubtless better than that run, he has had a tough race since, when a 13l winner over 2m4f at Aintree.
Immensely flattered by that winning distance, he had been headed by Arctic Fire between the last two, suggesting connections’ certainty he is a sure-fire stayer may be wide of the mark.
Aintree was bypassed by both horses when Jezki prevailed narrowly against the Fly last year at Punchestown and having an extra recent race in his legs is hardly going to aid the younger man in their first bout over a stayers’ trip.
Of course Willie Mullins’ grandmaster is no more proven a 3m-horse than the rival he so often has in arrears, but with the pair 12lbs and upwards clear of the field on official ratings there is a good chance his class could get him home.
That possibility is enhanced by the fact that three leading stayers mentioned above are all at their best with a good deal of cut in the ground.
Readers would be right to point out that the very same has been said about Hurricane Fly in recent years and the race looks set up for a potential upset as a result.
If such a situation is to come to pass then 16/1 shot Lots Of Memories could be the one to keep onside.
PG Fahey’s eight-year-old endured an indifferent time as a chaser in 2014/15, but found only Beat That and Don Poli too good in the Grade 1 3m Novice Hurdle at the Festival last year.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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