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Apple’s Jade routs top-class field to win Irish Champion Hurdle

It’s the first time in 16 years that a mare has won the race at Leopardstown.

Updated Feb 2nd 2019, 4:15 PM

APPLE’S JADE HAS routed a high-class field at Leopardstown today to become the first mare in 16 years to win the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle.

Gordon Elliott and Jack Kennedy celebrate winning the race with Apple's Jade Gordon Elliott celebrates another victory for Apples Jade. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

It was a scintillating performance by the seven-year-old, who in emulating Like A Butterfly, was garnering a 10th Grade One and in the process, bringing her career earnings to in excess of €700,000.

What was remarkable about the triumph, quite apart from the effortless manner in which she pulled 16 lengths clear of last year’s victor Supasundae, was that it was her third Grade One success of the season, attained over three different trips.

With her Hatton’s Grace and Christmas Hurdle successes coming over two and a half and three miles respectively, this one over two miles now raises the possibility of Apple’s Jade taking a shot at the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

She is also hotly-fancied for the Mares’ Hurdle, which she won in 2017, and the Stayers’ Hurdle but for now, trainer Gordon Elliot, who like jockey Jack Kennedy and owner Gigginstown House Stud is two-out-of-two for the day after Commander Of Fleet’s opening Grade One victory of the day, is anxious to enjoy the occasion.

“We’ll get her home and we’ll discuss it with the owners” said Elliott. “She’s entered and we won’t rule anything out. She’s in the Champion Hurdle, she’s in the Mares’ Hurdle and she’s in the Stayers’ Hurdle. She could run in any of them.

“It was just relief. You put yourself under pressure when you’re running a horse like that. We’re lucky to have her and she’s a very good mare.”

The first of Dublin Racing Festival’s eight Grade Ones at Leopardstown went to Gordon Elliott, Jack Kennedy and Gigginstown House Stud, after Commander Of Fleet got the better of a protracted battle up the full length of the straight with the Joseph O’Brien-trained, Mark Walsh-ridden and JP McManus-owned Rhinestone to claim the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors ‘€50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff’ Novice Hurdle.

Jack Kennedy onboard Commander of Fleet wins the race Jack Kennedy on board Commander of Fleet claims victory. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

The winner, who went off at 13/2, had a half-length to spare in the end and the pair pulled six lengths clear of Gallant John Joe in third.

“We knew he was a nice horse but it was a big step on only his third run over hurdles” said Elliott.

“We stepped him right up in trip. He ran in the Royal Bond over two and we knew he wanted further. He’s a nice horse and one for the future.

“It’s nice to get on the board early.”

Elliott confirmed that Commander Of Fleet would go straight to Cheltenham now, though he is still undecided whether that would be the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, for which he earned quotes of 9/1 immediately after this race, or the Albert Bartlett over 3m.

The Cullentra House handler also revealed the Battleoverdoyen would not be seen in public again until the Ballymore, having run three times in six weeks up to his Grade One win at Naas last month.

After watching Elliott record a treble, comprising two Grade Ones and a Grade Two contest, champion trainer Willie Mullins opened his account when Min effortlessly took the spoils in the day’s third Grade One race, the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.

Ruby Walsh celebrates winning The Ladbrokes Dublin Steeplechase on Min Ruby Walsh celebrates Min's success. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

In an incident-packed affair, Henry de Bromhead’s brilliant former Champion chase winner, Special Tiara sadly suffered a fatal injury before the field had even reached the first fence, where the Pat Fahy-trained Castlegrace Paddy fell.

Winning jockey, Ruby Walsh reported that the latter event might have spooked the winner but he had the long-time leader, overseas challenger Saint Calvados well in his sights jumping the last, before easing away to win at the prohibitive odds of 4/9.

Ordinary World ran a big race for de Bromhead to take second, six lengths back.

“I think he got a fright when Castlegrace Paddy fell and didn’t jump well for the next few fences” said Mullins.

“Especially the first one down the back, he just popped at it and stopped. I said ‘If he keeps doing that he’s going to be out of the race’ but Ruby got him jumping then and got him into a rhythm down to the back and it was only a matter of waiting until they got over the last and giving him the office to go, which he did.”

Mark Walsh and JP McManus teamed up successfully when Le Richebourg ran out a seven-length winner over Us And Them in the day’s fourth and final Grade One contest, the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase.

Mark Walsh onboard Le Richebourg comes home to win Mark Walsh on board Le Richebourg comes home to win. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The jockey and owner had been victorious earlier in the Ladbrokes Hurdle with the Charles Byrnes-trained Off You Go and combined on this occasion with Joseph O’Brien, who was also responsible for the runner-up.

Le Richebourg appeared to be outstayed by Delta Work when beaten in the Drinmore Chase at Fairyhouse at the beginning of December but impressed when proving too strong for Us And Them in Grade One company over two miles at this venue during the Christmas festival and confirmed his relish for the shorter trip today.

“He jumped well on the whole and when he had to be clever he was” said O’Brien. “Mark gave him a lovely ride and he was very cool on him. “He made a little mistake at the last here at Christmas and it was good to see him learn from that.

“A bit of nice ground is important to him. He’s very exciting and I’m delighted.”

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Daragh Ó Conchúir

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