The star mare Apple’s Jade could take a final career bow at the Cheltenham festival in March despite being pulled up at Gowran Park on Thursday.
Possible retirement for the 11-time Grade One winner - and one of the most popular horses in the sport - appeared to loom in the immediate aftermath of being pulled up in the Grade Two Galmoy Hurdle.
Apple's Jade was in trouble from the third last flight and Davy Russell called time on a bitterly disappointing display before the next obstacle as her old rival Benie Des Dieux put up a superb performance to win.
Retirement had been mooted for Apple’s Jade by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud team prior to her previous victory at Leopardstown and not ruled out if she failed to fire in any subsequent race.
However O’Leary’s brother Eddie said later: “All is OK. She hated the ground and goes straight to Cheltenham.”
Her trainer Gordon Elliott added: "Davy said the minute she put her foot on the track she was never going but I've said all year that she wasn't working as well as last year.
“We’ll have a chat with Michael and Eddie and I’d imagine if she goes anywhere it will be for the Stayers at Cheltenham. That could be her swansong if all goes well.”
An Apple’s Jade victory there would be an emotional moment although it could require beating her old rival Benie Des Dieux which on Thursday’s evidence looks a major task for any stayer anywhere.
On her home turf Willie Mullins’s star earned reviews after leading home a stable one-two-three.
Benie Des Dieux put 21 lengths between herself and the former Stayers champion, Penhill, with 17 more to another stable companion, Killulatagh Vic. Afterwards Mullins didn’t bother to try to hide how impressed he was.
“She could be better than any mare that I’ve trained,” he said which is some statement considering such comparisons brings Annie Power and Quevega into the equation.
The performance prompted some firms to make Benie Des Dieux odds-on to reclaim the OLBG Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham next, a race she has unfinished business with.
Her sole blemish in nine races for Mullins is a final flight exit in last year’s renewal, a blip she subsequently made up for with wins at Punchestown and the French Champion Hurdle in Auteuil.
She hadn’t been seen since that devastating performance and it was the prospect of a return on home ground that helped make the decision to travel her the few miles to Gowran from Mullins’s nearby base.
“The Galmoy wasn’t on the agenda but we said we’d enter without committing her. She was showing us all the right signs and it was a home game for us so we said we’d let her take her chance,” the trainer admitted.
If hardly an ‘after-thought’ option, such a resounding display still encourages hopes that even better may be to come.
So Mullins, who has a track record of opting for the easiest festival option with his top mares, surprised a few when conceding that a tilt at the Stayers Hurdle in March will come under serious consideration.
“She’s a three mile mare rather than a two mile mare. You’d seriously have to look at the Stayers Hurdle after that performance.
“She’d like a bit of cut in the ground so it will depend on the weather and the fact that the Mares Hurdle is earlier in the week could be a factor,” he said.
On home turf Willie Mullins exercised almost total big-race dominance on Thursday as Total Recall also led home a one-two for the champion trainer in the €100,000 Goffs Thyestes Chase.
The 16-1 winner was an eighth victory for the trainer in the historic handicap but a first for his nephew Danny.
Total Recall had five and a half lengths in hand of his 33-1 stable companion Class Conti at the line with Minella Fair in third.
"I've been coming to Gowran since I can remember. I was brought up just across the road from here," Danny Mullins said.
“Willie is a master. He has them right for these big days and I even had a job pulling him up until I got to the first fence down the back,” the rider added.
Total Recall earned 25-1 quotes for the Aintree Grand National on the back of Thursday’s performance.
The former Munster National and Ladbrokes Trophy winner started favourite for the National in 2018 but failed to fire and was pulled up behind Tiger Roll.
“I didn’t think he could win another big handicap,” admitted Willie Mullins who also scored on the card with Aione in a maiden hurdle.