Whenever I think of Irish Jumps racing in the 21st century, things like Moscow Flyer, Kicking King, Beef or Salmon instantly spring into my mind. However, reserving top spot is these two great Champions, Hurricane Fly and Jezki.
Their battles were something to behold… So let’s take a trip down memory lane and look back at their greatest duels.
Racing Post Champion Hurdle 2014: Punchestown
Jessica Harrington’s Jezki had come into the race as the Champion Hurdle winner after victory at Cheltenham. Although old foe Hurricane Fly wasn’t ready to give up 2m hurdling crown just yet. AP McCoy sent Jezki into the lead in a three-runner race, with Ruby Walsh sitting on his tail on Hurricane Fly. Things were steady in the pace department until near the end of the back stretch when McCoy began to up the tempo on Jezki. The race turned into a sprint up the home straight and with Hurricane Fly digging deep as usual. However, a good jump at the last helped Jezki, and he went onto win by over 3 lengths at the line. The foundations were laid for a great rivalry.
Morgiana Hurdle 2014: Punchestown
The eagerly awaited rematch happened on a glorious late autumn day at Punchestown. Once again, the two champions had scared off the opposition, with only the mare Little King Robin taking them on. And she made the running, with Jezki being hunted by Hurricane Fly in third. When things began to get serious Jezki went past Little King Robin quickly rounding the home turn. However, travelling beautifully was Hurricane Fly with Walsh motionless in the saddle. A mistake at the last put Jezki a length or so behind at the last and Hurricane Fly brought the house down with a superb victory, winning by two a half lengths. There wasn’t a more popular result at Punchestown that season!
Ryanair Hurdle 2014: Leopardstown
The latest trilogy came at Leopardstown’s Christmas festival. With it being the familiar trip of two miles at a course where Hurricane Fly had never tasted defeat. Jezki was ridden handy and Hurricane Fly once again stalked him everywhere he went. Coming into the home straight Hurricane Fly travelled very well once again with McCoy urging Jezki along to stay ahead. Both jumped the last well and together. And what followed up to the line will always be remembered in the history of Irish racing, Both horses fought tough and nail in a pulsating duel to the line. It was Hurricane Fly who found a little bit more to win by half a length. Sparking great scenes in the winner’s enclosure from the Willie Mullins team and “the fly” supporters.
Irish Champion Hurdle 2015: Leopardstown
Willie Mullins’s superstar arrived at Leopardstown with a chance to create yet more history. The chance was to break Istabraq’s record of four wins in this prestigious race. Jezki once again stood in his way. This time AP was more aggressive on Jezki and took the lead after the second last. Walsh and Hurricane Fly hadn’t endured a perfect trip and were not travelling with the usual zest. Although you can never write off a great Champion, and Hurricane Fly began to pick up and in no time was up level with Jezki approaching the final flight. Then drama struck! Jezki made a bad error at the final hurdle leaving Hurricane Fly in front with stablemate Arctic Fire racing into second. Hurricane Fly saw out the last furlong and created yet more racing history. “This is an unbelievable racehorse” said Dessie Scahill in commentary, and never a truer word has been said. We were all in awe of this once in a lifetime horse.
World Series Hurdle 2015: Punchestown
The final meeting between the two great rivals was slightly different. As all their previous meetings had been over two miles, this time though it was a mile further. Jezki was sent off at 5/2 with Hurricane Fly a solid 11/8 favourite. Mark Walsh was onboard Jezki for the first time and he rode him perfectly. Taking over the lead with a couple of hurdles left, Hurricane Fly battled through to chase him up the home straight. However, it seemed a long hard season had taken it’s toll on the Mullins trained superstar was unable to get close and it was Jezki who had the last laugh, striding onto an eighth Grade 1 win.
These races will live long in the memory for Irish racing fans.
Written by Jamie Lindsay.