Apple’s Jade bids to make her usual flying start to the season by securing a third victory in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan on Sunday.
Gordon Elliott’s brilliant mare has claimed the Grade Two prize in each of the past two seasons before going on to win the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse three weeks later.
The Cullentra handler is keen to follow the same route with his 10-times Grade One winner and is delighted with her current condition.
“She’s in good form and Navan is the ideal place for her to start off the season. It’s a great track and she has won this race for the last two years – and while she is not getting any younger, she has been working well,” said Elliott.
Despite her outstanding overall record, Apple’s Jade does return with something to prove after disappointing when favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March and suffering further defeats at Aintree and Punchestown in the spring.
Elliott added: “She’s been a star. She had a wind operation last year and her form petered off a bit, but she did the same the season before and she is better before Christmas.
“If she can do half of what she did last year before Christmas, she’ll do me. She won three Grade Ones last season.
“You train them from day to day, and I wouldn’t say you could train her that much different.
“She kept coming into season, so you just don’t know.”
Apple’s Jade is set to face four rivals in the two-and-a-half-mile contest, with the Willie Mullins-trained Bacardys her biggest threat on ratings, although he still has 10lb to find.
The field is completed by Dysios (Denis Cullen), The Ballyboys (Ray Hackett) and Magic Of Light (Jessica Harrington), who makes her first appearance since filling the runner-up spot behind Tiger Roll in the Grand National at Aintree.
The other Grade Two on Sunday’s card is Thetote.com Fortria Chase.
Last year’s winner Ballyoisin is back to defend his crown for Enda Bolger, but does have to concede weight all round and finished a disappointing last of six on his latest outing in a Grade Three hurdle at Tipperary.
Mullins saddles last season’s Arkle Trophy hero Duc Des Genievres, Gordon Elliott runs Hardline and Doctor Phoenix and Henry De Bromhead is represented by Cheltenham Festival winner A Plus Tard.
Speaking in a stable tour on www.attheraces.com, Mullins said: “Duc Des Genievres was very good in the Arkle and has come back in good shape. He looks one that we’ll start off at the minimum trip this season and see where he fits in.”
Grade Three honours are up for grabs in the For Auction Novice Hurdle.
Mullins landed last year’s renewal with subsequent Grade One victor Aramon and this time relies on Fast Buck.
Elliott – who won successive runnings with Labaik (2016) and Mengli Khan (2017) – saddles Abacadabras, who showed top-class form in the bumper sphere last term and made a winning hurdling debut at Gowran Park last month.
Elliott said: “Abacadabras is a classy horse. He ran some race in the Cheltenham Bumper with Lisa (O’Neill) last season as he was very keen all the way and then he was a bit unlucky in the Champion Bumper at Punchestown.
“He jumped a bit novicey with Jack (Kennedy) at Gowran, but Keith (Donoghue) has done a lot of schooling with him since and if he smartens up with his jumping at Navan on Sunday, then he’s a smart horse.”
Latest Exhibition is an interesting contender for Paul Nolan and Rachael Blackmore, having made a smart to start to his jumping career at Galway recently.
There is plenty of interest on the undercard, too, with Elliott’s exciting prospect Andy Dufresne running in the P.S. Supplies Doors & Floors Maiden Hurdle and the Mullins-trained dual Champion Hurdle runner-up Melon making his debut over fences in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Beginners Chase.
Mullins said: “He ended up being a little bit disappointing over hurdles last season and we tried a few different trips with him. Hopefully fences will spark him up again and he can get back to his best.”