Cheltenham festival got underway on Tuesday and we have the the placing Results, comments & full video replays from the Champion Hurdle, Supreme Novices & Mares hurdle.
She may have trained a triple Festival winner in Moscow Flyer, but a first victory in the Champion Hurdle was no less thrilling for Jessie Harrington.
Six-year-old Jezki, ridden by Barry Geraghty and trained by Harrington, won racing’s premier hurdle race, becoming her eighth winner at The Festival but a first in this contest.
The winner was bred by Gerard McGrath and carried his colours in eight races until purchased by J P McManus before last year’s Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, in which he was third behind Champagne Fever and My Tent Or Yours.
After turning the tables on the latter horse, who finished second in today’s race, Harrington said: “I didn’t see much of the final two hurdles because I was doing a lot of jumping up and down and cheering for Barry. Jezki seemed to travel really well and jumped well apart from the fourth-last where he dragged his hind legs, but then he battled like hell up the hill.”
Jezki wore a hood for the first time today, and Harrington said: “Barry said the hood made a big difference in that it got him to settle. I’ve had a lot of luck using hoods this season, and I ride a lot of horses out at home in hoods – anything that is a bit buzzy.
“I felt Jezki’s two previous races [when behind Hurricane Fly who was fourth in today's race] were a bit messy and at Christmas if he hadn’t got shut off we might have beaten Hurricane Fly. He also had a few lengths to turn around with My Tent Or Yours compared with last year, but he didn’t jump the last on that occasion.
“He had little bits of excuses in defeat, but today it all came right and the fast pace definitely suited him. It’s big to win any championship races here – I’ve won two Queen Mother Champion Chases, so now I want to put the Gold Cup on my CV, although it will be hard to do.
“Barry has ridden all bar two of my winners at The Festival so we have a good history together and he always seems to ride fantastically well for me. It was a good omen for the week when he rode a winner for me on Sunday.”
A P McCoy opted to ride the runner-up today in preference to Jezki, but Harrington said she was not surprised by his decision, saying: “A P has been beaten twice this season on Jezki, so why would he ride him? You need luck in running and maybe I had the gods smiling on me today.”
Jezki’s older brother Jetson, who is nine, runs for Harrington on Thursday in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle. He is still owned by his breeder, Gerard McGrath, and Harrington said: “He also bred Jered that Noel Meade trained and he has a younger full brother to Jezki [by Milan] who is coming to me next year. I can’t remember his name, but it is something beginning with ‘J’, as are all the McGrath horses.
“Gerry is a brave man, because he breeds horses, puts them into training and if they are good he sells them to J P. None of his horses ever go through the ring.”
She added: “I haven’t thought of plans for Jezki – it’s one day, or one drink, at a time. After you have won one championship race here, you want to go back and win another, but it’s so hard to do.”
Vautour produced a sensational performance to land the opening race of The Festival, the Sky Bet Novices’ Hurdle, by six lengths from runner-up Josses Hill.
The 7/2 joint-favourite was always in command turning for home and when jockey Ruby Walsh asked him for a finishing kick, he took off up the hill to record a commanding success. Trainer Willie Mullins was visibly surprised after the race and was full of praise for the five-year-old following the opener.
“We knew he was a good horse but I wasn’t quite expecting that!” said Mullins.
“He was a bit free over the first couple of hurdles but once he relaxed a bit and Ruby (Walsh) had accepted that he wanted to get on with it, he let him gallop and use his stride. Next thing you know, he was on a different set of rails to the other horses – that’s what I found amazing. I said that if he could keep it up, he was going to put in a performance like he did.
“It was a fantastic performance – he’s treated them like a bunch of maidens. I was hoping he could win but I can’t get over the way he won and he seemed in control for most of the race.
“Apart from a blip at the second last, it looked like he was always going to win and when the crowd roared turning for home, he took off. It was an extraordinary performance – you could see the whole way to the winning post that he was just looking round and idling. I’m looking forward to seeing him over fences as he looks every inch a novice chaser. We think he’ll stay and he should be some chaser. I think he’ll be going over fences next season.”
Jockey Ruby Walsh was all smiles as he returned to the winner’s enclosure and revealed that he wasn’t going to let the race turn into a slowly run affair.
“I had it in my head that I was going to ride this horse as if he was a stayer but I wasn’t going to come back in and kick myself for going too slow,” said Walsh.
“He jumped super – it was a bit of a grab at the third last. I have been doubting him all week but, Jesus, he is a good horse. He didn’t settle. He was in my hands the whole way but he jumped super when I needed him and he didn’t stop.
“When I got down to the second last, he pricked his ears and I thought ‘thank God, he hasn’t done too much and there’s a bit left’. I gave him a tap on the shoulder and he lengthened off the bend – I knew then that the fast horses were going to have to really stay to get by him. He dug it out all the way to the line.
“We thought that he was a hell of a horse. But he worked with Wicklow Brave and Wicklow Brave looked so much quicker. You start thinking that this fellow is maybe not as good as we thought. He proved to me today that he is a hell of a horse. He was good enough to win today and that’s all that counts.
“You can make too much of winning here. This morning was a cold and timely reminder with Jason Maguire. There’s a lot more to life than riding winners at Cheltenham. A P showed a picture of Archie before racing and you think ‘Jesus, thank God my kids are all right at home’. It’s a big week but there’s more to life than Cheltenham.”
Trainer Willie Mullins saluted Quevega after the mare created history by winning the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle for a sixth successive year. She’s the winning-most horse ever at The Festival.
“She’s just something else and the mare did the talking today,” said Mullins. “She’s got stamina, speed and everything, She’s just class – what more can I say? I’m so pleased for her and she has her own place in history now. To get a horse here for six years in a row is enough.
“The breeder told me when she was five that she would get better with age and that her mother wasn’t at her best until she was nine. We might be greedy to try number seven next year, we’ll go home and have a drink and a think.
“Veterinary advice was telling us to put her to stud and I sent her up to Ned Gowing and said that I wanted her back as a race mare – we are not in the breeding game – and he told me what to do. He treated her and told me the way to train her, so a lot of this achievement is down to him. He put her right for me the first year and we just follow the same procedure every year.
“The other mare (runner-up Glens Melody) ran a fantastic race and flattened the second last. I am delighted for Glens Melody and connections but I would never have been as disappointed at having a winner at Cheltenham if she had beaten Quevega. It was fantastic the way she turned it around over the last 200 yards. She put down her head and is so brave – she keeps pulling it out. She is never beaten.
“It’s way up there with all of my Festival winners. I love Quevega and that was one of our missions coming here – trying to get Hurricane Fly across the line didn’t work – but to get her there, I am happy now for the week.
“We set about riding Hurricane Fly more positively this year and maybe it backfired. Maybe it was age, I don’t know. He seems fine afterwards.
“I was disappointed with Hurricane Fly but everything else from here on this week is a bonus. I’m more than happy to have won what we have.”
GOING: GOOD TO SOFT (Good in places; 6.9). Weather conditions: fine.
2m½f, Class 1, £68,340.00
18 ran Distances: 6l, ½l, 1l
WIN £4.60 PL £2.80, £4.40, £3.40
2m, Class 1, £85,425.00
9 ran Distances: hd, 4l, ¾l
WIN £40.90 PL £7.30, £1.60, £1.50
3m½f, Class 1, £51,255.00
NR: Relax (FR)
23 ran Distances: 1¾l, 7l, 2¾l
WIN £9.70 PL £3.00, £8.50, £4.00, £4.10
2m½f, Class 1, £238,051.00
9 ran Distances: nk, 2½l, 2¼l
WIN £11.00 PL £2.10, £1.70, £1.40
2m4f, Class 1, £47,829.50
16 ran Distances: ¾l, ¾l, 3l
WIN £1.80 PL £1.50, £3.10, £4.30
4m, Class 1, £50,966.00
15 ran Distances: nk, 1¼l, ¾l
WIN £8.90 PL £2.70, £1.90, £2.50
2m4½f, Class 1, £34,170.00
NR: Baby Mix (FR)
19 ran Distances: ½l, 3l, ½l
WIN £9.40 PL £2.60, £3.20, £2.70, £7.70