Apple's back down to earth with a bang as Rashaan causes shock
A penny for Willie Mullins' thoughts during the Grade 2 WKD Hurdle. A penny? That is surely undervaluing such a privilege. You would pay a small fortune to know exactly what the champion trainer was thinking as Apple's Jade, a high-profile casualty from his split with Gigginstown, could not contain the 131-rated Rashaan. What's more, Petit Mouchoir – another ex-Closutton resident – was stuffed too.
Apple's Jade went into the race as an 8-1 shot for the 2017 Stan James Champion Hurdle but she came out of it as big as 20-1.
Trainer Gordon Elliott said: "That was disappointing, I may as well be honest. She looked slow.
"I suppose the positive is that she was only 80 per cent fit and we've not had her that long, but is she a Champion Hurdle winner on that evidence? Definitely not.
"We'll probably step her up in trip and she'll win plenty of races. Ruby [Walsh] said she was flat out from a fair way out.”
Despite the disappointing run from Elliott's superstar, Rashaan deserves lots of credit for bouncing back to the sort of form which had him heading ante-post betting lists for the Triumph Hurdle last winter. His reputation has suffered some severe dents since then, but this was a day for trainer Colin Kidd to cherish.
Some big offers were turned down after he won a Grade 3 juvenile hurdle at Fairyhouse last November and those tempting bids were refused for days just like this.
"I never regretted not selling him," said Kidd. "In fairness to my mother and Mr [Victor] Treacy, they never had any regrets either. They're having the time of their lives following him around the country. I never felt under pressure [to accept offers] as the owners are in it to enjoy it."
He added: "Last year the heavy ground during the winter just didn't suit him. We've been blessed with the weather over the last couple of months and will keep him going as long as the ground stays this way.
"When the word 'heavy' starts appearing in ground descriptions he'll get a rest and come back for the big races in the spring. He's thriving on racing – I think that's four runs in the last month and he's loving it. Good ground is key to him."
Life's a Beach for Airlie
Airlie Beach remains unbeaten but she had to dig very deep to keep that unblemished record intact in the Grade 3 mares' novice hurdle as Shattered Love made her pull out all the stops.
Ruby Walsh made all on the 4-6 favourite but had to get serious up the home straight to fend off the persistent runner-up. She held on by half a length to make it six wins from six and was left unchanged at 8-1 for the mares' novice hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival by BoyleSports, Betfair Sportsbook and Paddy Power.
"She was very tough, wasn't she?" smiled Walsh. "Dropping back from two and a half to two miles exposed her for speed a little bit and it was her stamina that won it.
"She was tough from the last and she's very game. She might appreciate a fraction slower ground given how well she stays."
Four-timer for Elliott
It was a strange day for Elliott as he somehow managed to help himself to a 125-1 four-timer despite Apple's Jade's shock defeat.
Monbeg Notorious got the ball rolling in the opening 2m6f maiden hurdle, Wolfslair won the 2m6f handicap hurdle, A Toi Phil made a winning start for the stable in the 2m3f beginners' chase before Grade 1 winner Realt Mor completed the four-fold in the 2m handicap chase.
Thought for the day
You've got to love Gordon Elliott's honesty – there weren't any excuses after Apple's Jade was beaten. He admitted his disappointment and was quick to write her off as a Champion Hurdle candidate. It was refreshing. More of the same from his colleagues, please.