Jezki out to confirm form
Connections of Jezki are eyeing a second successive win over Hurricane Fly when the pair square up for the fourth time since Christmas.
The Jessica Harrington-trained Jezki denied Willie Mullins' record-breaking Grade One winner when having him back in fourth place in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Their previous two clashes over the winter were on Irish soil at Leopardstown with Hurricane Fly gaining the upper hand in both the Ryanair Hurdle and Irish Champion Hurdle.
Friday's contest is an intriguing affair as just three runners line-up, the third member of the party being Jezki's stable companion Steps To Freedom.
"Hurricane Fly will be much more difficult to beat round Punchestown, but I'm looking forward to it," said owner JP McManus.
His racing manager Frank Berry echoed those thoughts, but believes they do have a horse that is up for the challenge.
"Jezki came out of Cheltenham very good. Jessie's very happy with him. Hurricane Fly is going to be very hard to beat around his favourite track, We just hope for the best," he said.
"AP (Tony McCoy) will be well up on a tactical race. He has got it all to do to beat Hurricane Fly around Punchestown, but he's in good form."
McCoy is reunited with Jezki after suffering defeat at Cheltenham when he opted for the runner-up My Tent Or Yours, with Barry Geraghty picking up the ultimate spare ride.
"He (Hurricane Fly) is a good horse - he's won two Champion Hurdles and a lot of Grade Ones," McCoy told At The Races.
"Looking at his form you'd think he's a better horse here than he is in Cheltenham, but Jezki has won the Champion Hurdle and hopefully he can repeat the feat here at Punchestown.
"There's no doubt Hurricane Fly will be hard to beat, but hopefully we can."
Harrington reports Jezki to have thrived since his big triumph.
"Jezki seems in good form. He's had a good time since Cheltenham. Everything has gone according to plan and we're all set for tomorrow," said the County Kildare trainer.
Harrington is also pleased she declared Steps To Freedom as there is plenty of prize money going begging in such a valuable contest.
"He was put in and left in there as it looked like it might cut up. There's good prize money going," said Harrington.
Mullins feels they may have used the wrong tactics on Hurricane Fly at Cheltenham and will revert to the tried and tested method that has seen his remarkable hurdler win this race for the last four years and notch a total of 19 victories at the top level.
"He didn't run the best race of his life in Cheltenham, but he always runs well in Punchestown. What can only go there and hope for the best," said the County Carlow handler.
"Jezki, coming back from a Champion Hurdle win, is going to be the one to beat, but we like this track and we're going to be there.
"We rode him differently (at Cheltenham) and maybe he was just too much to the front. That's all we can say.
"Punchestown is a different track and we'll probably go there and ride him like we always used to ride him and take our chance."