Apple’s Jade aims to bounce back to form against Benie Des Dieux
Willie Mullins-Gordon Elliott rivalry set to dominate final day at Punchestown
Davy Russell on board Apple’s Jade (left) and Robbie Power on board Supasundae at Leopardstown Racecourse. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
As it was at the beginning, and through much of the campaign, Ireland’s 2017-18 National Hunt will end at Punchestown on Saturday with near-total dominance by Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott.
Between them, the country’s twin training titans saddle all nine runners for the Grade One AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.
The other top-flight contest on the final day of the campaign, the Irish Stallion Farms Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle, is widely regarded as a match between Elliott’s superstar Apple’s Jade and her Cheltenham conqueror Benie Des Dieux.
She is joined by half a dozen stable companions in that race but it is in the third €100,000 event of the day that Mullins’s overwhelming strength in depth is most starkly illustrated.
He saddles a staggering 14 of the 25 runners for the Ballymore Handicap Hurdle which Mullins won a year ago with Open Eagle.
They make up the bulk of 32 final-day runners in all for Mullins who has been in resounding form this week, even notching the first six-timer of his illustrious career on Wednesday paying out odds of 9,802-1.
That was just the latest momentum swing during a season when both he and Elliott have enjoyed unprecedented levels of success both here and in Britain.
No one previously had saddled 200 winners in a National Hunt season in Ireland. Both men have passed that benchmark by. They’ve also both broken new ground by both securing more than €5 million in prizemoney here.
That dominance stretched to Britain’s biggest stages this spring with 15 Cheltenham winners between them, more than half of the 28 races at the greatest jumps festival of all.
Just a head separated them at the end of the Aintree Grand National. The same tiny margin also decided the Irish National at Fairyhouse.
So whatever the outcome of the trainer’s championship, those two National results, plus being crowned leading trainer at Cheltenham, has sealed Elliott’s contribution to what has become one of the most enthralling rivalries in the history of Irish sport.
The prospect of a long-term rivalry between Apple’s Jade and Benie Des Dieux is one to relish and the hope on Saturday will be that both bring their A-game to Punchestown.
Apple’s Jade clearly didn’t do that at Cheltenham when hanging persistently and proving a costly odds-on failure in the attempt to defend her OLBG crown.
It was her Mullins’s opponent who came through to win, with Midnight Tour splitting the Irish pair. All three are back for another clash and the outcome could rest on how Apple’s Jade has emerged from her festival failure.
The Gigginstown Stud team have revealed she was feeling more than a little sorry for herself in the aftermath of Cheltenham although no specific reason seems to have emerged.
Apple’s Jade has had over a month to bounce back from that however and it’s hard to forget how even despite not running up to her 158 rating she was still just a length and a half off the winner.
Her Triumph Hurdle-winning stable companion Farclas will attempt to emulate Apple’s Jade’s 2016 success in the AES. No Triumph winner has doubled up here since Katarino in 1999 and Farclas has a fight on his hands to confirm Cheltenham form with the runner-up Mr Adjudicator.
The latter appears to be the number one of Mullins’s half-dozen hopes but it will be intriguing to see what Stormy Ireland can do with the 7lbs sex allowance this time.
At Cheltenham she ran much too free for her own good and her attempt to make all was doomed by the final flight when taking a heavy fall.
Low Sun has been described as “lazy as sin” but Katie O’Farrell has struck up a productive relationship with him.
A valuable win at Fairyhouse was followed earlier this week by another good effort behind his stable companion True Self at two miles. The extra half mile of the big handicap pot could be a big plus to Low Sun’s chance.