Michael O’Leary makes no allowances for his winner Apple’s Jade

Despite Fairyhouse win, owner says mares should get no weight allowance at top level

 

Michael O’Leary is famed for his ability to wrong-foot, and the Ryanair boss did it again after Apple’s Jade’s stunning Bar One Hatton’s Grace Hurdle success on Sunday by arguing that mares should not get a weight allowance.

Apple’s Jade got a 7lb sex allowance from her male opposition at Fairyhouse and made full use of it to record an all-the-way nine-length success under Jack Kennedy in the €100,000 Grade One Winter Festival feature.

O’Leary was thrilled with his star mare becoming the first horse in a dozen years to successfully defend the Hatton’s Grace crown. However, despite the glow of victory he was adamant that mares should race off level weights with geldings in top-flight races.

“I genuinely think the 7lb is wrong at Grade One level. I think it’s unfair. I think there should be no allowance. If you’re good enough, then take the geldings on at levels. I think it’s unfair on the geldings.

“I know I’m after winning this race with her and she’s a dinger,” he said. “But Annie Power didn’t need 7lb to win a Champion Hurdle. I can see why four-year-olds might get an allowance and I’m not trying to be controversial. But I think allowances at Grade One level are wrong.”

The champion owner also maintained Apple’s Jade will follow a similar route to last season and is likely to race exclusively against her own sex despite getting 8-1 quotes from some firms for the Stayers Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Instead the six-time Grade One winner will be steered towards a defence of her OLBG Mares Hurdle crown at the festival.

“It’s very hard to get any kind of winner at Cheltenham and you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” he said. “Willie Mullins kept taking a mare [Quevega] back there so why change what the master has worked out.”

A different mare

Apple’s Jade’s trainer, Gordon Elliott, was also adamant that the OLBG will be the hugely popular mare’s Cheltenham festival target.

“No chance” was his response to Champion Hurdle queries, and he added: “I was always taught to win the race you can win, so the mares’ race will be the one I’ll go for. She’s only five and she’s a different mare at home this year than she was last year.

“We’ll give her a break now and she might go to Punchestown for the race she got beaten in last year [Punchestown’s Quevega Hurdle in February]. The Mares is the plan and then Punchestown. If we mind her we might get a few years out of her.”

O’Leary is also known for his pre-race pessimism and had nominated Nichols Canyon as the likely winner before the Hatton’s Grace. Despite that, Apple’s Jade was backed down to evens favouritism and the prospect of a few years more of watching this star mare will only cement her public popularity.

She got a superb reception after her smooth nine-length success from the eight-time Grade One scorer, Nichols Canyon (2-1) with Supasundae in third.

Apple’s Jade joined Solerina, Limestone Lad and Istabraq as the only horses to win the Hatton’s Grace more than once since it was originated in 1994.

Even on a day when Apple’s Jade was the centrepiece of a unique Grade One hat-trick for Elliott and O’Leary, the name of their unbeaten novice Samcro still came up despite being tucked up at home.

O’Leary dismissed the publicity around his exciting prospect as rubbish and insisted: “He’s not as good as the hype would make out. He will never be as good as the hype will make out. If he turns to be a reasonably good chaser in time, great; but he’s not the next coming of Jesus Christ.”

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