Brilliant Benie Des Dieux dominates Apple’s Jade again
Willie Mullins officially crowned champion trainer as Saldier victory caps off fine week
Benie Des Dieux en route to victory at Punchestown. Photograph: PA
Benie Des Dieux confirmed her superiority over Apple’s Jade in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old had done most of her racing over fences in Ireland before the Cheltenham Festival, when it was largely considered that Apple’s Jade was below her best.
Gordon Elliott’s Apple’s Jade was sent off the 5-6 favourite to get her revenge and made an early bid for home under Jack Kennedy.
But she had no answer to the 3-1 second-favourite, who went sweeping by under Paul Townend to show there was no fluke about the Cheltenham result.
Augusta Kate, a stablemate of the winner, came from nearly last down the back straight to pass Apple’s Jade after the last.
Townend said: “Robbie (Power) set a good gallop (on Forge Meadow) and Jack took it off him (on Apple’s Jade). He kept it up but Benie Des Dieux came alive for me then, over the third last and the second last and she stays well as well, so she’s a very good mare.
“It’s a long time since I sat on her over fences (December 2016), but she’s proven that Cheltenham was no fluke now.
“She is very versatile, she jumps a fence so well, who knows (whether she’ll go back chasing) but wherever she goes, she’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
Mullins said: “She’s as good as I thought she was. My aim all year was to win the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and hopefully come back here and she has done both things properly. She’s a really good mare.
“At home, I thought after her first win she had the ability of Douvan, I wondered was she a female version of Douvan.
“I want to see what there is over fences for her, are there races for her over fences that I want to go for? I imagine that’s her finished for the season.
“We could be tempted by France just as I said that — probably not.”
Later Willie Mullins and owner Rich Ricci ended the Festival with a flourish as Saldier charged home in the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.
After a disappointing start to the week for Ricci’s pink and green silks he has seen Faugheen bounce back to his best to win the Stayers Hurdle and 40 minutes before Saldier he looked on as Benie Des Dieux won the Mares Champion Hurdle.
Having cut no ice in the Triumph Hurdle, which was dominated by Farclas and Mr Adjudicator, Saldier was also beaten at Fairyhouse just 11 days ago.
He looked a different proposition on this occasion as Robbie Power bided his time behind the pace-setting Stormy Ireland before storming clear to win by three lengths at 10-1.
Mr Adjudicator was second again with Saglawy and Msassa making it a 1-2-3-4 for Mullins.
Power said: “The lads thought a lot of him and it’s just his jumping has been the problem. Today he jumped much better probably because of the better ground. He’s got a good turn of foot as well.”
Mullins said: “We thought an awful lot of him and were really disappointed with how he jumped at Cheltenham.
“Robbie sorted that out today. He brushed up on his jumping and Robbie said he jumped fantastically.
“I think all these could go to France, we haven’t been hard on our four-year-olds this year. They have had a really easy time of it and it has paid off.
“He will stay hurdling next year.”
He added: “Punchestown is a lucky place for me!”
Heron Heights bounced back to form to run out victorious in the Palmerstown House Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase.
Third in the race last year, Henry de Bromhead’s nine-year-old had not shown his best form of late and had only run once since the Galway Festival.
Partnered by Robbie Power for the first time, Heron Heights (16-1) could be spotted travelling noticeably well and cruised past Rogue Angel and Kylecrue to win by seven lengths.
Power said: “It’s been a fantastic week. Henry was hopeful — he was just a bit worried about the ground, but he jumped everywhere and did it well in the end.”
De Bromhead said: “It’s great for the owners and Robbie gave him a super ride.
“He’ll keep going over the summer and could be one for the (Galway) Plate or the Kerry National or the summer Nationals.”