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Improving Jezki to end Hurricane Fly Irish Champion Hurdle love affair

Big Buck’s narrow defeat in the Cleeve Hurdle caused little movement in the Cheltenham Festival World Hurdle market, with the four-time victor holding tough at 9/4 favourite, but if Hurricane Fly goes down at Leopardstown the consequences will be felt all the way to Gloucestershire.

The Montjeu super-gelding is unbeaten in seven runs around the Dublin track and is 8/13 favourite to land the Irish Champion Hurdle for the fourth year in a row, which would equal Istabraq’s record at the turn of the century.

Willie Mullins readied the horse for a Leopardstown win just a few weeks ago when Ruby Walsh booted him home in the Ryanair Hurdle, two and a half lengths ahead of Jezki with Our Conor another three and a quarter back.

However, Jezki’s trainer Jessica Harrington will feel her horse was unlucky to run into traffic trouble in his first run against the two-time Cheltenham Champion Hurdler and the Kildare-based handler was delighted with the progress shown during race.

That was the six-year-old’s first defeat in four outings at Leopardstown – indeed, only his fourth in 13 races under rules – and with Mullins confirming that the favourite’s bruised foot has hampered preparations, Harrington’s charge could be primed to take advantage by edging over the line first at 10/3 odds.

History is on Harrington’s side, as five six-year-old’s have won this event since Istabraq’s final triumph in 2001, but only three horses in the 63-year history of the Irish Champion Hurdle have claimed victory at 10 or older, of which the first was Hatton’s Grace back in 1950.

Hurricane Fly falls into the veteran category now and while Mullins’ beloved inmate may still have enough in him to make history, taking him on with an improving sort such as Jezki looks the most profitable way to play.

The 1.30 at Leopardstown sees two leading Cheltenham contenders, Defy Logic and Felix Yonger, face off in the Grade 1 Frank Ward Solicitors Novice Chase Arkle trial and while the latter opened up the 15/8 jolly, Paul Nolan’s chestnut could yet go off as favourite after being backed in from 5/2 to 2/1.

Felix Yonger got the better of Defy Logic at Punchestown in November, but Nolan’s seven-year-old seemed to have rid the mistakes made on that occasion from his system when romping home on this course over Christmas, eleven lengths ahead of Champagne Fever – another supposed Mullins hotpot – in third.

With the rain coming as well as the money for Defy Logic, he has to be the pick to put his Arkle credentials on display with a second win around these fences in five weeks.

You could hardly wish for a better man in the saddle than Tony McCoy, who’s booked to ride both Jezki and Defy Logic at Leopardstown, but get your bets on quickly for this green and gold double as the 12/1 with Coral about the pair coming in won’t be around long if the latter keeps attracting the punters.