Apple’s Jade will bid to prove she retains plenty of her old ability when she goes in search of a fourth successive win in the baroneracing.com Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse.
After being at her scintillating best in the first half of last season, with wins in this race, the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown and the Irish Champion Hurdle, Gordon Elliott’s ace finished the campaign in disappointing fashion.
Defeats at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown were put down to her not being at her best in the second part of the campaign, but when she was well beaten on her return to action this season, Elliott started to think the rigours of competing at the top level for so long might have caught up with her.
“Nothing came to light after her first run, but she’s been competing at the top level for four years and she’s won 10 Grade Ones,” said Elliott.
“I think she’s improved from her last run, but whether she’s quite what she was, I don’t know – but she is in good form.
“It’s very hard for the fillies and she’s been running at the top level since she was three.
“She looks a lot better, so we’ll see, but I’d say it’s a better Hatton’s Grace than it’s been for a while, it’s a good race.”
Another smart mare in the line-up is Henry de Bromhead’s unbeaten five-year-old Honeysuckle.
“She’s a Grade One winner and she likes Fairyhouse. You have to go into these races at some stage, so we’ll give it a go and see,” said De Bromhead.
“On her first run (of the season) she was brilliant. Obviously everything was in her favour, but it was nice race to start her off in and now we’ll go and see where we are.
“She looks very good over two and a half (miles). I’d say you could drop back to two miles. I don’t know about three miles, but she’s just one of those you could do anything with.
“I wouldn’t discount anything with her.”
Willie Mullins runs three of the six runners, but not his own star mare, Benie Des Dieux.
He nevertheless holds a strong hand with Bacardys, who beat Apple’s Jade in the Lismullen Hurdle, and Penhill, who is returning to action having missed all of last year, as well as Killultagh Vic.
“Bacardys has the recent form,” said Mullins.
“Penhill is coming back from a long break, but he went very well the other day in a schooling gallop. I’ve just changed tack with him this year and hopefully he’ll stay sound.
“Other years I’ve been keeping him until after Christmas or even Cheltenham, but I just felt at his age we need to get him to the racetrack and get races into him. If he stays sound we’ll head on to Cheltenham and if he doesn’t we’ll pull stumps and probably end up retiring him.
“Killultagh Vic is probably the one that’s going to find it hardest on the day.”
Joe Walsh’s Davids Charm completes the field.