Apple’s Jade will face a maximum of eight rivals when she bids for a historic fourth victory in the BARONERACING.COM Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
Gordon Elliott’s brilliant mare scooted to a 20-length success 12 months ago – becoming the third three-times winner of the two-and-a-half-mile Grade One after Limestone Lad (1999, 2001 and 2002) and Solerina (2003, 2004 and 2004).
However, she will return with something to prove as she goes in search of the four-timer on Sunday, having disappointed at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown in the spring, and had to make do with the runner-up spot on her reappearance in the Lismullen Hurdle at Navan.
Elliott has also confirmed Coko Beach and Surin, while Willie Mullins has whittled his potential team down to four.
The champion trainer could saddle Lismullen Hurdle winner Bacardys, prolific mare Benie Des Dieux, Killultagh Vic and the 2018 Stayers’ Hurdle hero Penhill – who has been sidelined since chasing home stablemate Faugheen at Punchestown the following month.
The potential field is completed by Henry de Bromhead’s unbeaten mare Honeysuckle and John Joe Walsh’s stable star Davids Charm.
The first of three Grade One events on a top-class card is the Royal Bond Novice Hurdle, in which Elliott appears to hold the aces.
The star attraction is last season’s Champion Bumper hero Envoi Allen, who made a foot-perfect start to his career over hurdles at Down Royal at the start of the month.
He could be opposed by high-class stablemate Abacadabras, with Joseph O’Brien’s trio of Embittered, Midnight Run and Front View, and the Mullins-trained Foveros also featuring among 10 contenders.
Elliott’s Samcro is one of nine going forward for the Drinmore Novice Chase.
The seven-year-old looked much more like his old self when making a winning return to action on his fencing bow at Down Royal, but might not have things all his own way this weekend.
Elliott has also left in Battleoverdoyen, Champagne Classic and Tintangle, while the standard is arguably set by Burrows Saint, who provided Mullins with his first Irish Grand National success in the straight.
Ronald Pump has been supplemented by trainer Matthew Smith to add further strength in depth, with Fakir D’Oudairies also in the mix.