Gordon Elliott has his fingers crossed Apple’s Jade can complete a hat-trick in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
The Gigginstown House Stud-owned mare has won 11 of her 17 career starts overall, including seven Grade Ones.
She got the better of a thrilling battle with former stable companion Vroum Vroum Mag when striking gold in the Hatton’s Grace two years ago and was a hugely impressive winner over the ill-fated Nichols Canyon last season.
Having warmed up for her return to Fairyhouse with victory in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan – just as she did last season – Apple’s Jade is favourite to become the third three-time winner along with Limestone Lad and Solerina.
“She’s a great bit of stuff – she’s won seven Grade Ones. She doesn’t owe us too much and whatever she does from now on is a bonus,” Elliott told At The Races.
“On ratings she looks like the one to beat. It looks an ideal race for her – she’s won around the track twice and she likes going right-handed.
“She’s in great form at home and we couldn’t be happier with her.”
Apple’s Jade is one of four runners for Elliott along with Dortmund Park, Farclas and Sutton Place.
Elliott added: “Sutton Place has been off the track for a while, but he’s a horse I think an awful lot of.”
Like Apple’s Jade, Grade One-winning novice Dortmund Park and Triumph Hurdle hero Farclas carry the colours of Gigginstown House Stud.
Gigginstown’s racing manager, Eddie O’Leary, said: “We’ll just have to see how much rain there is.
“The mare is well, hopefully there’s not that much rain for her, but she is what she is.
“Dortmund Park probably wants further, but will hopefully go well.
“Farclas should run well, but he might need the run. It’s his first run back after a wind op.”
Willie Mullins had Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon and Cheltenham Festival heroines Benie Des Dieux and Laurina entered at the confirmation stage.
However, he whittled his team down to four and none of that trio run.
Instead, the champion trainer relies on Bapaume (Paul Townend), Shaneshill (David Mullins), Wicklow Brave (Patrick Mullins) and Limini (Ruby Walsh).
Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins said: “They’re four very good horses, but this looks a high-class race.
“Apple’s Jade is in there and Supasundae as well and those two will be hard to beat.
“Hopefully our horses can run well and pick up some prize-money.”
The Jessica Harrington-trained Supasundae was third in last year’s renewal before going on to win the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
Jockey Robbie Power is looking forward to the eight-year-old’s belated seasonal reappearance after he was withdrawn from the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown a fortnight ago.
He said: “It was unfortunate the ground was a shade quick in Punchestown. He’s in good form and the Hatton’s Grace is where he started last year.
“It’s going to be a tough race, with Apple’s Jade in there again, but he ran well to finish third last year.
“He’s a big, lazy horse at home and no matter how much work you do with him, it’s very hard to get him fit without having a run.
“He’ll definitely improve for the run whatever he does on Sunday, but we’re looking forward to getting him started.
“If you look at his form you’d say two miles his best trip, but he’s very versatile – anywhere from two miles to three miles he can pitch up.”
Joseph O’Brien’s Early Doors completes the field.