This week saw the retirement of one of my racing heroes as well as one of my all-time favorites Jezki. Jessica Harrington handled Jezki superbly throughout his career. Jezki first came to my attention winning a four-year-old bumper at Leopardstown on an overcast day in Leopardstown 28-1-12. Jezki followed up in a four-year-old bumper at Leopardstown on 4-3-12. Jezki headed to Cheltenham for the champion bumper four-year-olds do not have a good record in the bumper. Jezki ran a creditable race to finish eight behind Champagne Fever.
Jezki headed into the novice hurdle season with great anticipation from your correspondent. The season started with a pipe opener on the flat at Navan Jezki finished fifth. Jezki made his hurdles debut at Naas on 29-10-12 winning by three parts of a length from Ally Cascade. There were twenty-four lengths back to the third horse. I was really impressed. Jezki returned to Naas on 10-11-12, he pulverized a decent field by eight lengths. The fourth horse Hisaabaat (runner up in the previous season's triumph hurdle) was 34 lengths behind in fourth. I promptly went out to back Jezki at 20/1 for the Supreme at Cheltenham. There was no going back now. Barry Geraghty had formed a really good partnership with Jezki, the two were completely gelled as a partnership.
Jezki went on a Grade 1 blitz capturing the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in a smooth style. Jezki beat Champagne Fever by a length and a half. Jezki was well backed from 11/4 - 9/4. Geraghty got a bad injury before Christmas which meant he missed the whole season until Punchestown. This was to prove to be a blow and the importance of Geraghty's presence as regards Jezki would become apparent through his career. Jezki headed for the Paddy Power future champions novice hurdle as a warm 11/8 fav, Robbie Power doing the steering. There was never an anxious moment Jezki won by six lengths. Ally Cascade who had got within three parts of a length earlier in the season was now fifteen lengths behind. The progression was clear for all to see Jezki was now 6/1 fav for the Supreme. What had stood out about Jezki to this point had been how electric quick he was over his hurdles. It was a sight to behold. I think the only mistake Jessica Harrington made in the career of Jezki came next. Jezki did not race from 27-12-12 until the Supreme on 12-3-13. In the meantime, Jezki had been bought by JP McManus.
The day of the Supreme arrived it was bitterly cold with the track covered with frost covers. The racing was put back by a half an hour to allow time to clear the track. I must admit I was worried by no run in the calendar year. I also had a suspicion Ruby would try and control the race from the front, just like Patrick Mullins did in the bumper twelve months earlier. There was also My Tent Or Yours for JP McManus who had won the Betfair Hurdle. Jezki raced keenly early but jumped into it at the third or fourth last, his jumping lacked a bit of fluency at the second last not bad just not as quick as earlier in the season. Jezki fluffed the last hurdle with a sloppy jump. Champagne Fever and My Tent Or Yours fought out the finish Jezki was third beaten two and three parts of a length. The only consolation was having backed Champagne Fever on the day. My each-way bet on Jezki copped but I was gutted I really felt he could have won. The bad news on the day wasn't over. I met Robbie Power in Cheltenham that night in one of the bars I asked him if Jezki had winged the last would he have won. He said we would have gone very close. That was the tin hat on the day marvelous I thought. Jezki finished the season with the destruction of the field at Punchestown in the Evening Herald novice hurdle with Barry Geraghty back on board. Jezki beat Ted Veale by sixteen lengths with Champagne Fever the even money fav back in third. Geraghty was four from four on Jezki. The Champion hurdle dream was on. There was the prospect of Hurricane Fly reigning champion. There was also the brilliant Our Connor who had bolted up in the Triumph Hurdle. Hurricane Fly had an almost fanatical scarf-wearing fan base at this point. I was pretty certain Jezki had the ability to beat Hurricane Fly. I did not realize at the end of the 2013 season how long it was going to take to see that belief vindicated.
McCoy was the JP McManus retained jockey. I must admit I was uneasy at the loss of Geraghty. The season started off fine a routine win at Down Royal was followed by a workmanlike win in the Hattons Grace at Fairyhouse. Both wins were achieved under Tony McCoy. The Ryanair Hurdle at the Christmas Festival at Leopardstown was up next. Hurricane Fly was the market leader 11/10, Jezki 15/8 was the second fav and Our Connor 3/1. This was my first encounter with the fanatical Hurricane Fly fan base. It's also the origins of a running joke against myself involving me holding the Jezki fan club meeting in the phone box at the back of the stand at Leopardstown. The race was a disaster with McCoy being blocked in by Danny Mullins. It was a very worrying sign for the partnership. Ruby scooted off the home turn and Jezki was stuffed by two and a half lengths in second. The Hurricane Fly fans were going mad I clapped along but inside I was seething. The Irish Champion Hurdle in January 2014 was equally disastrous. McCoy deciding to hold Jezki up a mistake at the second last for Jezki finished it. Our Connor fought out the finish with Hurricane Fly who won again. There were many scarfs waving for the Hurricane Fly fans again.
I left Leopardstown thinking people still hadn't seen the best of Jezki. I felt on better ground Jezki would improve, I also felt a change back to Geraghty was a must. There was My Tent Or Yours who McCoy could go for. Thankfully McCoy chose My Tent Or Yours in the run-up to Cheltenham. My confidence grew with Geraghty restored and Hurricane Fly ten years of age. Horses that age don't win champion hurdles I told myself. I was happy Jezki could wipe the smile off the Fly fans faces. The bookies agreed The Fly was freely available at 3/1, I was more afraid of Our Connor. I did not fear The New One despite him being 7/2. Jezki was 10/1 generally unconsidered but that was fine with me. Jezki was declared in a hood I liked this angle as well, he would settle better. On the day of the race, I was actually a bit nervous. I knew he had a real chance. I was desperate for Jezki to win for the horse and of course, every punter likes their opinion validated. I had a proper each-way bet on Jezki.
I got to Cheltenham early enough plenty of banter with the Fly fans in our party. I even managed to get an even money match bet against Melodic Rendezvous from a fanatical Hurricane Fly fan, who claimed Jezki could not beat Melodic Rendezvous let alone Hurricane Fly. The day had started well I backed Vautour for good money in the Supreme and Holywell for better money in the three-mile handicap. I took my position on the lawn alone and prepared for the race to unfold. There was high drama as Our Connor fell early interfering with The New One. Sadly Our Connor lost his life it was a terrible shame he was a right good horse. The race was on at the top of the hill with all the dreams still alive. Captain Cee Bee took them along, Hurricane Fly stalking in second My Tent Or Yours third, Jezki fourth on the inside and The New One In fifth close enough if good enough. Between the second and third last Geraghty zoomed Jezki up on the inside. I began to think it's on here. Hurricane Fly and Ruby were alive to the move and hit the front. The scarf-wearing Hurricane Fly hordes found their voices. Jezki winged the second last Captain Cee Bee kept Hurricane Fly out a bit. Jezki and Hurricane Fly were neck and neck with My Tent Or Yours trying to tack on to them in third. Jezki and My Tent Or Yours cleared away from Hurricane Fly the scarf wearers falling deadly silent. Now it was the English punters who roared " The Tent " on. Jezki winged the last Geraghty got a length lead. I was in full cry now myself as Jezki surged up the hill. My Tent Or Yours tried hard but it was JEZKI by a half-length who won the 2014 champion hurdle. The New One ran on for third and Hurricane Fly a gallant champion carried out on his shield in fourth.
It was delirium for me, the course announcer calling "the first number Four Jezki" I was just delighted. I made my way down to the parade ring cheered Jezki in. It had been a tough winter following him, but it had been all worth it. It was one of my best nights ever in Cheltenham I celebrated long into the night. At Punchestown, McCoy was back onboard. Jezki beat Hurricane Fly again. Jezki had McCoy back on board for Season 2014 and 2015. Jezki finished second to Hurricane Fly in the Morgiana, the Ryanair and the Irish Champion Hurdle. It was a disheartening period where I longed for the return of Geraghty. Jezki went back to Cheltenham to defend his crown another iffy McCoy ride saw Jezki finish fourth beaten by a brilliant Faugheen, Artic Fire and an eleven year old Hurricane Fly!! Jezki finished the season out winning the Aintree hurdle and then winning the Punchestown Stayers hurdle beating Hurricane Fly over three miles.
Jezki picked up a leg injury and did not race from Punchestown 2015 until January 2017. Jezki returned with a win at Navan. Jezki went to Cheltenham for the Stayers hurdle he traveled really well looking like a winner two out but did not get home finishing eighth. Jezki won two more races the Tipperary hurdle and a conditions hurdle at Leopardstown. I used to go to the races to watch Jezki as much as I could in his last season. In his last season his jumping was brave still it always slightly worried me I would have hated if something happened to him. Jezki gave me one last thrill when he nearly won the Ladbrokes hurdle beaten a length in second in February 2019. I roared him home. My dad said if ever a spectator tried to lift a horse home that was it. I went down to the parade ring and clapped him in.
Jezki stopped being a betting proposition in 2015, however, he stayed in my heart and mind always. As a punter which is what I still fundamentally am evolving through their racing journey. The attachment to horses tends to not be as strong, this is part of the game so much racing you have to be clinical sentiment will cost you money. This, of course, does not extend to horses you actually own they fill the space that heroes held. JEZKI was certainly up there as regards my favorite ever racehorse, he gave me some great days and fun. I will never forget that day in March 2014. The rivalry between Jezki and Hurricane Fly was wonderful they never ducked each other. Jezki was part of a golden generation of hurdlers winning 8 Grade 1 races, including the 2014 champion hurdle -Go well old friend I for one will miss you on Winter and Spring afternoons.