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Elliott lost for words after Apple's Jade turns back the clock at Leopardstown

It was another disappointing afternoon for Willie Mullins.

Jack Kennedy on Apple’s Jade.
Jack Kennedy on Apple’s Jade.
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

ON CHRISTMAS DAY, TG4 broadcast Into The West, a movie I hadn’t seen in the guts of 25 years.

A scene among many a withered husk of memory: the two Traveller kids are guided under a waterfall by Tír na nÓg, the great white horse. The trio were escaping the law and came upon a battalion of horsemen out on a hunt.

It got me thinking about how much of a buzz hunting must be, jumping all manner of obstacle but knowing nothing in advance. Paul Carberry preferred it to riding racehorses. Gordon Elliott, somewhat exasperated, sent Apple’s Jade out hunting lately to sweeten her up after a dire start to the season. Keith Donoghue did the steering.

How did the market know that hunting, cheekpieces or whatever it was would see Apples Jade return to form: she was gambled into 6-4? She jinked right at every hurdle in the feature staying hurdle but nothing could get near her.

It was a combination of her sweetened up and the rest offering bugger all in behind, notably Bacardys, who was one of a notable handful of top Willie Mullins horses to bomb this week. Not that Elliott will care, nor Eddie O’Leary, the Gigginstown manager who would have retired Apples Jade had she flopped here.

“We all thought she was gone,” Elliott admitted after his eighth winner of the week so far. “I don’t know what happened.”

The public latch to stories of redemption, each knowing that he or she at one time longed to be redeemed. Apples Jade was afforded a rousing welcome under Jack Kennedy, one she will have enjoyed after a series of poor runs since winning here last season.

“It’s brilliant,” Kennedy said after the mare extended her unbeaten Leopardstown record. “I know she’s had a couple of disappointing runs but she’s put that behind her today. I think the atmosphere here revs her up; she loves it here.”

For Michael O’Leary, this was an unusually sweet success. “Otherwise she was finished. It looks like she’s back.”

If Apples Jade were impressive, Delta Work’s victory in the feature was far more significant with a view to the future. He was given a peach of a ride from Kennedy, coming with a withering run to wear down the gallant Monalee. For the also-rans Kemboy and Presenting Percy, there was enough here to suggest the season will be bountiful.

Kennedy, who enjoyed a treble (Dalton Highway winning the handicap hurdle) has had a disastrous year or so with injuries and if today were vindication for Apples Jade, it was greater vindication for Kennedy. His timing on Delta Work, the tactics of the RSA Chase last season questioned by his own connections afterwards, were a thing of beauty.

“Jack is riding out of his skin,” Elliott said. “He has had a few hard injuries and it’s good to see him back riding like this. He’s a top-class jockey.

“For Michael (owner O’Leary), Anita and all the kids to be here today, it’s their first day racing this year, and we have to produce winners and keep them coming.”

It brought up an 80.25/1 treble for Elliott, The Bosses Oscar winning the first, in which the well-touted Jon Snow disappointed for Mullins. Even though he took the maiden chase, Alaho giving best to stablemate Easy Game, it was a disappointing afternoon for the champion trainer. Indeed, the exciting Ferny Hollow was beaten again in the bumper, Forged In Fire scoring for Joseph O’Brien.

jack-kennedy-celebrates-winning Jack Kennedy celebrates winning the Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Indeed, Mullins has had a bit of an up-and-down week. Laurina was pulled up, Blue Sari ran no better and the great white hope Chacun Pour Soi was beaten, albeit running well.

Then we had Melon winning, Appreciate It impressing and Faugheen doing what Faugheen has been doing for too many seasons to remember.

I asked Mullins would a chance in tactics help Chacun Pour Soi and Mullins seemed reticent to answer. Perhaps this is telling. Sometimes little says a lot. “We’ll discuss tactics later,” he said.

Reflecting on the defeat of Samcro in a clash against Faugheen on day one of the Limerick festival that had everyone talking, Elliott was coming around to some measure of optimism.

“I’ve not given up. I don’t know why he stopped. He ran for me like a horse that bled but we scoped him afterwards and he didn’t. We’ll take a lung wash off him. It was disappointing,” he said.

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The big races involve a small number of personalities, month in month out, but the smaller ones often linger more in recollection These are successes you cannot underestimate for the smaller yards – and those who tag along.

Former jockey Robert Widger won’t forget it any time soon, Treacysenniscorthy making all under Kevin Brouder in the Pertemps Qualifier. The rookie trainer executed a plan perfectly, a gamble landed too.

“My three sons are here beside me,” Widger smiled. “All wannabe jockeys.”

Colm, Joe and Sean were grinning. Revert to this page in a decade or so’s time to see how they realised their respective dreams, even if things will go wrong along the way.

Horses disappoint: they are not programmed to do anything. I am a forgiving man and Samcro, Melon, Chacun Pour Soi and Alaho – all of whom either suffered defeat or won unimpressively – are very much still on the radar.

Sometimes we are premature in our dismissals. Just ask Apple’s Jade.

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Johnny Ward

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