Apple of Elliott's eye beats former stablemate in epic battle
When told he would get Willie Mullins-trained horses from Gigginstown in September, Gordon Elliott wanted one in particular: Apple's Jade.
He had plenty to take in - new horses included - and was hardly apt to ponder whether or not he might win the trainers' title, a fanciful notion just the day before. Little did he know that Apple's Jade, in edging Vroum Vroum Mag in a classic Hatton's Grace yesterday, could play a critical part.
It is early days but we are servile to a title-race narrative, one usually not worthy of discussion. Apple's Jade tackled her second Grade One in eight days - something almost unheard of nowadays - and connections knew that it was a gamble; that flak was inevitable if it backfired.
"People were telling me we were mad considering she had a hard race in the Fighting Fifth but I discovered this morning she had actually put on weight since Newcastle," Elliott said.
It was gripping stuff on a day when everyone seemed up for the battle - from the noticeably loud crowd to Vroum Vroum Mag, which was a shade unlucky in a photo-finish defeat.
Whereas the trip was straightforward for the four-year-old, the 4/7 favourite was still somewhat out of her ground coming into the straight, crucially not appearing to find the room Ruby Walsh was looking for at the back of the third last. She produced a superb turn of foot between the last two flights but, having taken it up on her first run back, had 4lb to give the winner - and no more - close home.
"She wouldn't be mapped in the Champion Hurdle," Elliott said of Bryan Cooper's mount, "and it's the Mares' Hurdle all the way. She won't run at Christmas and will appear once before Cheltenham.
"Having said that she might run again next week!"
Mullins had better luck with another mare, Airlie Beach, which produced a relentless display of jumping and galloping in the Royal Bond. Danny Mullins' aggression on the well-backed 4/1 chance was backed by her own and the rider's uncle paid tribute after her rampant win over stablemate Saturnas.
"I never dreamt that she'd be a Grade One mare. It's an extraordinary result for her and for owner Supreme Racing. She's a fantastic jumper and gallops all day," said the champion trainer whose Getabird (8/11) easily won the bumper.
JP McManus struck in the opening juvenile hurdle with the Barry Geraghty-ridden Landofhopeandglory (evens fav) for young trainer Joseph O'Brien.
Interestingly, O'Brien would not deny that there may be a better hurdler yet to jump among his McManus-owned juveniles and the legendary owner got among the Grade One winners when his apparent second-string, Coney Island (8/1), landed the Drinmore.
Mark Walsh partnered the Eddie Harty-trained steed in a race run at a proper gallop thanks to the fluent-jumping Alpha Des Obeaux. Coney Island showed a superior turn of foot to Anibale Fly, on which Geraghty wore the first colours, providing McManus with a 1-2.
Harty said: "He was 20/1 (early on) in the betting and I didn't feel he deserved to be as big as that, even though he was coming here after getting beaten in a beginners' chase. Barry loved him at the start of the season but you'd have expected him to make the choice he did. He's a good horse."
Mouse Morris, meanwhile, was losing no faith in Alpha Des Obeaux, which did best of the Gigginstown runners in fourth, and all roads lead to the RSA Chase at Cheltenham.
Those present appreciated the quality of the fare, its competitiveness and life itself. As Campeador rose to his feet after a bad fall at the last in the €100,000 handicap hurdle, a race won by another JP runner in the Noel Meade-trained Waxies Dargle (16/1), the cheer warmed the heart.
Campeador had not run since crashing out at the last at Cheltenham; he may have scored that day too. Here, he won the battle to see another day, perhaps one as enjoyable as Fairyhouse on a memorable winter's afternoon.