Ruby Walsh aboard Melon during the Leopardstown Christmas Festival. Bryan Keane/INPHO

Willie Mullins-trained Melon the obvious danger to rampant Apple's Jade

Can Apple’s Jade transfer the form she has shown over longer distances to the minimum trip?

STAR MARE APPLE’S Jade (1.25), who has looked better than ever in winning her three races this season, can demonstrate her versatility by winning the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at the first leg of the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown.

At issue is whether she can transfer the form she has shown over longer distances to the minimum trip. It will be her first attempt at 2m since she was edged out by Irving in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in 2016. At the time, she was only beginning to settle in with Gordon Elliott after her transfer from Willie Mullins, and the form is of limited relevance at this juncture.

The Mullins-trained Melon is the obvious danger on the strength of last season’s Champion Hurdle second, and is sure to strip fitter than when fourth to stablemate Sharjah on his seasonal debut at Christmas.

However, the 7lb sex-allowance represents a significant advantage for a mare of the calibre of Apple’s Jade, and she should be equal to this challenge. Perhaps she could even win with a level of authority to persuade connections not to settle for easier pickings in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham next month, and bid instead for the Champion Hurdle.

The mare is one of three likely short-priced favourites on the card. The exciting Envoi Allen (2.35) has an excellent chance of retaining his unbeaten record in the bumper, and Min (3.10) is very hard to oppose in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase.

Naturally, the two handicaps provide the best chance of a more attractively-priced winner. The Ladbrokes Handicap Hurdle has several intriguing elements, including Ruby Walsh’s name cropping up towards the foot of the handicap on useful dual-purpose performer Uradel.

Charles Byrnes saddles the progressive Wonder Laish as well as last year’s winner Off Yo Go, and Tony Martin taking on Wonder Laish with Tudor City on better terms than when they clashed at Fairyhouse.

Another major feature is that JP McManus has five of the six highest-weighted runners among his six-strong team. The each-way value could lie with the Des McDonogh-trained Hearts Are Trumps (2.00), a stylish winner at Punchestown in November and now returning as a relatively fresh horse after finishing fourth behind Wonder Laish at Fairyhouse at the beginning of December.

Henry de Bromhead has several interesting candidates for the Goffs Handicap Chase, notably Moon Over Germany, whose form in two novice races makes attractive reading, and Rachael Blackmore’s mount Mind’s Eye, whose sights are lowered after a couple of Grade 1 attempts.

Once again there is a lot to be said for looking for an each-way option. The former Jim Culloty-trained horse and distance winner Lake Takapuna (4.20) makes plenty of appeal following a good run at the Christmas meeting on his first start for Dermot Weld.

For more visit the Racing Post 

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