There are improving horses and then there’s Jeff Kidder, writes Bradley West.
At Leopardstown over Christmas the four-year-old was beaten by nearly nine lengths by Denise Foster’s superb juvenile Zanahiyr.
Today, he finished three quarters of a length ahead to cap a quite remarkable few months for the Noel Meade-trained horse.
Bought by business partners Albert Dravins and Eamonn Scanlon in August last year his story has been one of rapid progression.
First, at Cheltenham, he delivered a stunning 80-1 surprise victory in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – becoming the longest-priced Festival winner since 1990.
Then, he followed it up with Grade Two success at Fairyhouse and now he’s added a first victory at the highest level – storming clear at the end of the contest and holding off his much more favoured rival.
“He jumped brilliant today,” Meade said. “He’s never stopped improving since he came back from Cheltenham.
“The real fast gallop really suits him, as they did in the Fred Winter and he did there.
“He’s going to have a little break now, but he’ll certainly have a run on the flat.
“It’s great because it’s been a lonely old week up until now. I’m absolutely delighted.”
While Jeff Kidder’s Cheltenham and Fairyhouse victories were massive shocks, this also registers as a huge achievement given it came off level weights and was a first tilt at Grade One level.
Not only that, but unbeaten star Quilixios, as well as Zanahiyr and Willie Mullins’ newbie Haut En Couleurs, all represented the toughest opposition of his career.
And indeed he wasn’t near the front for large parts of the two-mile race – with Quilixios and Haut En Couleurs battling at the head of the field.
Suddenly though, Meade’s star found his rhythm and burst past the field on the home straight.
Zanahiyr tried to mount a late surge of his own to steal the win, but Jeff Kidder did just enough.
He thrives in the spotlight now – just ask his trainer.
“He’s been a film star on the yard because everyone wants to see him and I think he’s liking every minute of it,” Meade added.