Shock as Apple's Jade loses to Rashaan on first start for Elliott
Report: Down Royal, Friday
WKD Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m, 4yo+
Champion Hurdle hopeful Apple's Jade lost on her first start for Gordon Elliott as she failed to repel the challenge of Rashaan, who sprung a 10-1 surprise.
Viewed by many as the jewel among the 60 Gigginstown Stud horses removed from the yard of Willie Mullins, Apple's Jade had been a general 8-1 chance for the Champion Hurdle but has now more than doubled in price.
She can be backed at 20-1 with Betfair to win the Champion Hurdle following this surprise defeat.
Sent off as the 1-2 favourite having been as short as 1-3 earlier in the day, Apple's Jade held every chance after cutting out the running, but she could not match the race-fit Rashaan's turn of foot and appeared to have no excuses as she was beaten by one and a half lengths.
Elliott said: "That was disappointing. I may as well be honest. I know she is not fully wound up yet but I thought she would still win.
"I am still getting to know her, though, and we have not had her long. She will obviously come on a lot for the run. Ruby [Walsh, rider] said she was flat out from a fair way out."
Expectations for Apple's Jade had been so high following a juvenile campaign in which she landed two Grade 1 prizes and finished runner-up in the Triumph Hurdle.
She may have lost out at Cheltenham but her extraordinary, wide-margin win at Aintree proved in no uncertain terms that she was the best of her generation and a genuine contender for honours in open company.
The Colin Kidd-trained Rashaan, who was ridden by Sean Flanagan, displayed promise as a juvenile too but he was rated some 22lb inferior to the runner-up, who also received 2lb once penalties and sex allowances were taken into account.
Kidd said: "Last year the heavy ground during the winter just did not suit him. We're here after being blessed with the weather over the last couple of months and we will keep him going as long as the ground stays this way.
"He is thriving on racing. I think that is four runs in the last month and he is just loving it. The good ground is the key to him. He is just not as effective on heavy ground. He does not jump well out of it."
Also on Friday
EBF Lough Construction Ltd Mares Novice Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m, 4yo+
Earlier on the card, the Willie Mullins-trained Airlie Beach stretched her unbeaten run to six - with five of them coming over hurdles - in the Grade 3 EBF Lough Construction Ltd Mares Novice Hurdle.
She is unchanged at 8-1 with Paddy Power for the Trull House Stud Mares' Novice Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
Winning rider Ruby Walsh said: "Dropping back from 2m4f to 2m exposed her for speed a little bit and it was her stamina that won it for her.
"She probably might appreciate a fraction slower ground given how well she stays. If she did go on slower ground it would be a huge attribute to her. She is very tough."