Apple’s Jade set to step up in trip at Leopardstown

Run in three-mile Christmas hurdle to pave way for Cheltenham chance, says O’Leary

Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud team has indicated there is "a fair chance" star mare Apple's Jade will test her stamina over three miles for the first time at Leopardstown over Christmas.

After Apple's Jade beat stayers' champion Nichols Canyon by nine lengths in the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse earlier this month initial suggestions were she wouldn't be seen again until the New Year.

However she holds entries in the two-mile Ryanair Hurdle and the three-mile Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown's Christmas festival, with a quick return to action during the holiday period now looking on the cards.

"I think there's a fair chance she'll go to Leopardstown, all going well, and if she does it will probably be for the three-mile. If she does run at Leopardstown she'll then go straight to Cheltenham, " said Eddie O'Leary.

Apple's Jade is a warm favourite to defend her OLBG Mares Hurdle crown at Cheltenham but is also a 10/1 shot for the stayers' hurdle at the festival in March.

O’Leary indicated a change of Cheltenham plans is unlikely despite how the hugely popular mare fares at the new distance over Christmas.

Running plans

“We’re fairly sure 2½ miles is her correct trip,” said O’Leary who oversees the Gigginstown operation for his brother, Michael. “There’s either the two-mile or the three-mile at Leopardstown. And she will probably have to go for the three-mile, all going well.”

Two weeks out from the start of Christmas action the “all going well” refrain peppered running plans. But much of Gigginstown’s might could be on show during the upcoming holiday period.

The Ryanair boss's hugely-exciting unbeaten novice Samcro holds an entry in a Grade Two at Navan this Sunday and also figures in the Grade One Paddy Power Future Champion Novices Hurdle on Day Two of Leopardstown in two weeks time.

However, original plans to keep him for the first Grade One of 2018 – the Lawlors Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas – could hold fast should the Royal Bond winner Mengli Khan line up in the Future Champions.

“All options are open and we won’t take a decision for a while. Two miles wouldn’t be an issue for Samcro. But we will try and keep him and Mengli Khan apart.

“All going well, we’ll keep Mengli Khan to two miles and if he does run Samcro would probably go to Naas for a very nice Grade One,” said Eddie O’Leary.

The JLT joint-favourite Death Duty was the third leg of a memorable Winter Festival hat-trick for the O’Learys at Fairyhouse just over a week ago and he too may reappear over Christmas.

"He could run at Christmas. We've very little options with him. We'd love to keep him at 2½ miles but his only options are at two miles, one (the Racing Post Novice Chase) and three (Neville Hotels Novice Chase.)

“The three mile could be an option and hopefully the ground won’t be bad. But Gordon (Elliott) will decide what we do on all that,” added O’Leary.

Gigginstown are pursuing four in a row in the €150,000 Leopardstown Christmas Chase, formerly the Lexus, which is set to host last year’s beaten favourite Valseur Lido who will have a first start since the 2016 renewal.

“He’s good to go again. He had an entrapped epiglottis – which isn’t one of the BHA’s wind operations! It’s a fold of skin that goes over the epiglottis and traps it. It’s a simple thing to just hook it open.

“He did miss a bit (of work) around Down Royal time and the JNwine (Champion Chase) which is not an ideal preparation but hopefully he’ll be okay to run,” said O’Leary.

King George

Last year’s Lexus winner Outlander is also on course for the Leopardstown feature which is now the sole Christmas option for Sizing John after Jessica Harrington’s decision to skip the King George at Kempton with her Gold Cup hero.

“If he runs anywhere at Christmas he will run at Leopardstown,” explained Harrington. “It is only 16 days from his last run to the King George and there’s the travelling and everything else.”

Gigginstown’s strength in depth in the staying-chaser division, however, means their resources could be split between Leopardstown and Kempton.

“We will look after Leopardstown first. Leopardstown is the priority,” said Eddie O’Leary.

“The King George is an option for Disko. He had a sore foot last week that meant missing the Durkan, if that’s okay . . . Kempton is definitely an option for him. Road To Riches is in the two races as well.”

Disko is a general 20/1 shot in betting for the King George, a race in which Gigginstown's own Gold Cup winner Don Cossack fell at the second last fence in 2015.