Cheltenham queen Apple's Jade has outstanding chance according to Elliott
OLBG Mares' Hurdle | Grade 1 | 2m4f | 4yo+ | ITV/RUK
Rewind 12 months and Apple's Jade was arriving as a wannabe princess. Now the red carpet has been rolled out for her return. She is the undisputed queen and is back to defend her crown.
Her tenacious triumph over Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag in this race last year was the start of a winning spree that has stretched to five. Only her attitude outweighs her ability.
We got another glimpse of that steely determination at Leopardstown over Christmas when she snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in the Grade 1 Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle.
That form looked good at the time but it looks a whole lot better now after the runner-up Supasundae got the better of Faugheen in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle and is now a leading fancy for the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle.
Apple's Jade may be odds-on but she deserves to be odds-on. She is the defending champion, has the highest official rating (158) and will handle the ground. What's not to like?
Gordon Elliott is confident she is ready to do herself justice and issued an upbeat bulletin on his star mare.
"She's had a great preparation and I couldn't be happier with her," Elliott said. "She has to have an outstanding chance of winning it again."
What they say
Ruby Walsh, rider of Benie Des Dieux
She is a bit like Vroum Vroum Mag in that she was bought with the intention of going chasing with the option of returning to hurdles. She has done everything we have asked of her. She's in very good form and she was the best option we had for this race.
Neil Mulholland, trainer of Indian Stream
She ran well in the race last year. She was the first British mare home. The ground wouldn't be right up her street but it's probably the same for a lot of them. We know she was doing her best work at the end of the race last year and that might play into her favour a bit more than others.
Gavin Cromwell, trainer of Jer's Girl
She seems in good form and I have been very happy with her over the last couple of weeks. She seemed to be travelling nicely when she came down last year and hopefully we will have better luck this time around. Apple's Jade is going to be a tough nut to crack, though. It's hard not to fancy her.
Nicky Henderson, trainer of Kayf Grace
She found two miles in the ground at Newbury a bit much. I think the extra half a mile will help her. She has always been a very good mare.
Warren Greatrex, trainer of La Bague Au Roi
It will be her biggest test but she has done nothing but improve all season. I was very impressed at Ascot, when she put paid to the thought she doesn't handle soft ground. This season she has filled into a more finished article and now handles heavy ground in a way she couldn't when she was younger. Apple's Jade has looked very good for a long time but there is more to come from my mare and, if that's the case I would like to think she will shake up the favourite as well as Willie Mullins' horse [Benie Des Dieux], for whom there are good vibes. On all known form, it's between those three and it's exciting to go in there with a horse who can achieve even more than she already has. If that is the case, she's not going to be far away.
Ben Case, trainer of Midnight Jazz
She has run well enough round there in a handicap on soft ground and went in it at Warwick last month so can handle it. The top two are going to be tough to beat. If we can pick up a bit of the pieces I will be delighted.
Alan King, trainer of Midnight Tour
I could see her running well. She was a bit unlucky at Warwick, when she was nearly taken out when pushed wide at the second-last. She recovered well and finished best of all and, although she is not rated to win, she’ll be staying on up the hill and might outrun her odds.
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