McManus Festival team balloons

Ben Linfoot was on hand at Punchestown as JP McManus had a big-race double, after which he revealed that his Jezki is in for a busy few weeks.

Jezki: Set to reappear at Navan next week

JP McManus wasn’t at Punchestown on Saturday and neither was his racing manager Frank Berry. The latter, at least, had the sense to seek sunnier climbs on a bracing cold day in County Kildare.

But the famous green and gold silks of McManus dominated the afternoon’s sport at the Eadestown track, courtesy of a near 38/1 double in the two feature races on the card (okay, we’re a bit biased on that score).

First Edwulf won the brilliantly-named Sportinglife.com Beginners' Chase for Joseph O’Brien, an eight-year-old that has taken time to warm to the chasing game. This was his fourth go over fences, a learning curve that O’Brien admitted had been a bit disappointing, but he could be one for the spring festivals now he’s putting that experience to good use.

One that looks certain to go to Cheltenham, Aintree or back here at Punchestown in the spring is the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle winner, Any Second Now, who surprised Ted Walsh, Berry and McManus when winning at 66/1 on his debut at Navan last month.

This wasn’t so much of a shock, late money seeing him go off the 6/1 second-favourite behind 4/11 chance Crack Mome, a mistake at the last seeing Ruby Walsh’s mount hand the initiative to father Ted’s charge.

“I thought Ruby had a bit more in the tank, but he joined him at the last and did it well,” a visibly buoyant Walsh senior said in the aftermath of the contest.

“It’s only his second run and he’s come from having a tootle round in a maiden hurdle at Navan to racing properly. It was a big step up.”

The sponsors are 9/1 (non runner, no bet) about the winner for the Sky Bet Supreme and, though Walsh acknowledged he could step him up in trip at some point, he did seem to favour a crack at the opening race at the Cheltenham Festival.

“He could be a very good horse. He’s a big raw sort of a horse. I’ll leave it to Frank and JP – I’m sure they’ll have loads of ammunition for Cheltenham, we won’t be rushing.

“It’s a sharp old two miles around there, though, and sometimes the two-mile (Supreme) isn’t as strong as the two-five (Neptune).”

If Any Second Now does run at Cheltenham he’ll have a lot to live up to. The last three winners of the Sky Bet Moscow Flyer have been Vautour, who won the Supreme, Douvan, who won the Supreme, and Min, who was a good second in the Supreme.

Walsh wasn’t keen on comparing his fellow to that trio, though.

“When Vautour won it, you had no doubt he was a Cheltenham horse,” Walsh said.

“When Min won it you’d no doubt. When Douvan won it you’d no doubt.

“I would say, if you were looking for a runner, he’d run respectably, but for me to say he’d win at Cheltenham after that, I’d say you’d be clutching at straws.”

Two McManus horses that are being aimed at the Cheltenham Festival are Landofhopeandglory, who could bid to give his owner consecutive wins in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, and the lesser-spotted Jezki, who will be entered in both the Stan James Champion Hurdle and Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle.

Joseph O’Brien trains the former, saying: “Landofhopeandglory’s doing very well, he ran well at Christmas despite getting beat.

“He’s going back to Leopardstown in February for the Grade One next and he’s in good form.”

Jessica Harrington, meanwhile, presented the winning trophies to the Walshes in the race named after her legendary steeplechaser Moscow Flyer, while she went home with a winner herself after landing the closing bumper with Fintara, ridden by her daughter, Kate.

Harrington had news on Jezki, the 2014 Champion Hurdle winner who hasn’t been seen since the 2015 Punchestown Festival.

Despite not being seen for almost two years, Jezki could be in for a busy schedule in the run-up to Cheltenham with Harrington eyeing up appearances at Navan and Gowran Park before March.

“All being well he runs next Saturday at Navan over two miles,” said Harrington, the race being what was run last year as the Follow Navan On Facebook Rated Hurdle.

“The main aim is to go back up to three miles but he’s got to start somewhere as he was due to run over three miles at Christmas and he just had a little setback so he couldn’t run.

“The two-mile race at Navan looks idea for him at this stage.

“He’ll be entered in the Champion Hurdle and the Stayers’ Hurdle.

“We’ll look after Navan but I’d expect him to run between then and Cheltenham, probably in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park in February.”

It would be great to see Jezki back at Cheltenham, either in the Stan James Champion Hurdle or the Sun Bets Stayers’, and he would form part of a strong Team McManus – one that you feel got even stronger at Punchestown on Saturday afternoon.

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