Kennedy hoping Labaik is on best behaviour at Punchestown
Jack Kennedy on Sunday described Labaik as the fastest horse he has ever sat on, but admitted he is taking nothing for granted where the quirky grey is concerned and will not be getting his hopes up until the horse jumps off in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown on Tuesday.
That is an if, rather than a when, and the issue appears to be factored into prices on the Grade 1 contest as Labaik is 5-2 second favourite behind 11-8 market leader Melon – despite having beaten that rival by two and a quarter lengths in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last month.
Indeed, given Labaik's patchy past – he had refused to start in two of his three outings before Cheltenham and all but refused on the other occasion – Betfair Sportsbook offer a 'starters insurance' market and make him a 5-4 shot, with all bets refunded if he does not jump off.
The enigmatic Gordon Elliott-trained six-year-old is one of the star turns on the first day of the meeting, which features three Grade 1 races.
"He's definitely the fastest horse I've ever ridden," Kennedy said without hesitation. "The problem is that with a horse like Labaik you can never get your hopes up. It's probably best to fear the worst and that way you won't be too disappointed.
"I've absolutely no idea why he is the way he is at the start. It's just one of those things. The funny thing about it is that he's very straightforward everywhere else. He was brilliantly behaved at Cheltenham and had no problem in the parade ring or on the way to the start. Even the big crowds and atmosphere had no effect on him."
Reflecting on that 25-1 success in the Supreme, Kennedy said he knew after jumping one hurdle it would take something special to stop him from riding his first festival winner.
"Once he jumped off and we got over the first I knew he had a massive chance and it would take a very good one to beat him," said Kennedy, who turned 18 on Saturday and was chucked into Elliott's equine swimming pool to mark the occasion.
"Labaik is actually very genuine when he does jump off. He jumps great, travels well and finds plenty for pressure when you ask him. When things go right he's a fair horse, and it will take a really good one to beat him at Punchestown. I'd be very hopeful he can beat Melon again.
"His work at home has always been very good. It takes a good one to keep up with him – he's very, very fast. He has so much raw talent and is definitely my best ride of the week at Punchestown."
Five others are set to take on Labaik and Melon, with the Colin Tizzard-trained Pingshou flying the flag for Britain. He is owned by Ann and Alan Potts and will be ridden by Davy Russell, with the owners' retained rider Robbie Power partnering Forge Meadow in his other role as stable jockey to Jessica Harrington.
Eight have been declared for the BoyleSports Champion Chase, for which Un De Sceaux was on Sunday the sponsor's 4-6 favourite, with chief British hope Fox Norton 7-2.