Apple’s Jade put up a scintillating display to win the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Gordon Elliott had dropped his special mare down to two miles for the first time since November 2016, when she was beaten at Down Royal, but the shorter distance did not make a difference in the slightest.
Three out of three so far this season, winning by a minimum of 11 lengths, Apple’s Jade was sent off the 8-11 favourite and Jack Kennedy was keen to get her customary role at the head of affairs.
While Supasundae, Petit Mouchoir and Melon were able to track her comfortably approaching the second last, when Kennedy asked the mare to quicken, the race was effectively over.
She sprinted 16 lengths clear in the straight, with Supasundae putting up a gallant defence of his crown in second for Jessica Harrington, but he had no answer to Apple’s Jade.
Petit Mouchoir stuck on for third with Melon, who made a mistake at the wrong time, disappointing in fourth.
Kennedy said: “She’s unbelievable no matter what trip it is and she makes very good horses look ordinary. They came with me early on, but the further we went the further clear she went. She’s special.
“She’s the best hurdler I’ve ridden, full stop. I know I’m still only a young lad, but when you are growing up that’s what you dream about – riding top class horses. It’s very exciting.”
When asked if the win makes a Champion Hurdle bid likely, Elliott said: “We’ll get her home and discuss it with the owners. 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 and we’ll see what happens.
“If I tell you something here today, I’d only be telling you a lie. We want to get the mare home in one piece and make sure she’s OK. We’re lucky to have her and she’s a very good mare.
“I’m going to go and enjoy tonight and see what happens. Everything is a possibility now.
“I’ll have my opinion, Eddie (O’Leary) will have his opinion and Michael (O’Leary, owner of Gigginstown) will have his opinion. Whatever Michael says, that’s what we’ll all do!
“That was just relief. You put yourself under pressure when you are running horses like that and it’s a big relief. She’s got a big heart and she doesn’t do anything exciting at home. She wants to win.
“When she winged the second last I was happy. When she kicked off the home turn I knew that Jack had the rail and it was going to take a fair one to pass her.
“It was well publicised that she wasn’t right in Cheltenham or Punchestown last year, she was in season, and we have to make sure it doesn’t happen.
“She’s a monster, she’s something else and we’re lucky to have her.”
On his decision to run in the Irish Champion Hurdle, Elliott added: “I thought I gave her too much time between Christmas and Cheltenham last year.
“There is no other race she could run in here, not unless she went for a novice chase and we weren’t going to do that!
“A lot of credit has to go to Michael O’Leary and Gigginstown for running the mare here today because it was a big ask for her to come back to two miles.
“These are the type of horses you want at these Festivals. There was no other race to suit her and they were ballsy enough to bring her back and run her over two miles. It was great.
“Whatever happens now, we can enjoy the weekend as you put yourself under so much pressure coming here.
“To have two Grade Ones here – it doesn’t matter what happens the rest of the weekend.”
When it was put to him that it was good to have a replacement for one-time Champion Hurdle hope Samcro he said: “Samcro will be back.
“He’s in work, he’s cantering away and we’re happy with him.”
On the possibility of making Cheltenham, he added: “We’ll rule nothing out.”