JEZKI produced a gutsy display to finally give trainer Jessica Harrington a Stan James Champion Hurdle victory.
She has been a bridesmaid in the showpiece contest at the Cheltenham Festival but her six-year-old, ridden by Barry Geraghty, signalled a new dawn in the division when exhibiting a will of iron to win.
A 9-1 outsider, Jezki held a healthy lead jumping the final flight but needed all his resolve to hold off My Tent Or Yours by a neck as they duelled up the hill.
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It was a race which could have seen Hurricane Fly join an elite band of horses to have won the Champion Hurdle on three occasions but Ruby Walsh’s mount could only finish fourth.
The contest was also tinged with sadness as Our Conor, who thrilled the crowds 12 months ago when winning the Triumph Hurdle by 15 lengths, suffered a fatal fall.
Harrington said of Jezki: “I think I’ve been placed three times and to get the number one spot is fantastic.
“There was a lot of shouting up the hill and I am surprised I can speak at all. I had great faith in the horse.”
Geraghty has never lost in five races on Jezki and said: “He’s a great little horse. He had good form and we didn’t have an awful lot to find with the best of them.
“I don’t think that the price reflected his chance. He found plenty when I needed him to.
The runner-up was getting to me – I needed the line.”
Vautour (7-2 jt-fav) got Irish trainer Willie Mullins’ Festival off a flier when making every yard to win the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The five-year-old produced a near faultless display of jumping, a slight mistake at the third last his only blemish, as he trounced Josses Hill by six lengths.
“He was very keen over the first and second hurdles, but I think Ruby (Walsh) accepted he was going to be keen and let him gallop and use his stride,” Mullins said.
“The next thing it was like he was on a different set of rails to the other horses.I thought he was good, but I didn’t expect that. He has treated them like a bunch of maidens.”
Ecstasy quickly turned to agony for Mullins and Walsh when Champagne Fever (11-4 jt-fav) was mugged in the final strides by 33-1 outsider Western Warhorse in the Racing Post Arkle.
Jezki, ridden by Barry Geraghty, and My Tent Or Yours ridden by Tony McCoy
Tom Scudamore, on board the David Pipe-trained sixyear- old, was some six lengths adrift as they began the descent but his mount produced a fabulous jump at the final flight and just out-stayed Champagne Fever in a driving finish.
The jockey said: “We weren’t expecting him to win an Arkle. On the way down the hill, I thought we might get in the first four. He winged the last and he’s gone and got past Champagne Fever. It’s great.”
Pipe added: “It’s an unexpected thrill and hopefully we have got some good chances later on in the week.
“To win any race here is amazing.”