Apple's 'better than ever' ahead of titanic Champion clash
Jack Kennedy declared Apple's Jade to be "better than ever" as Gordon Elliott's mare heads nine challengers to the hat-trick-seeking Buveur D'Air in tomorrow's mouthwatering Champion Hurdle as the Cheltenham Festival kicks off.
Kennedy (right) will partner Apple's Jade (9/4) once again and the Kerry teenager is oozing confidence with Elliott's ten-time Grade One winner usurping Nicky Henderson's defending champion Buveur D'Air (5/2) into favouritism in most quarters on the eve of their titanic clash.
"She feels better than ever this season. Certainly, since I've started riding her she's never been better. The key thing with her is that she must be revved up before her races," Kennedy told the 'Racing Post'.
"When she lost her way last spring, she wasn't that way. This season, every time I've sat on her in her races, she's been revved up and raring to go. I'll know when I hop up on Tuesday whether she's revved up or not."
Buveur D'Air - one of two JP McManus-owned runners along with Gavin Cromwells' Espoir D'Allen (18/1) - bids to become the sixth horse to claim the two-mile showpiece three times, and the first since the mighty Istabraq (1998-2000).
Henderson also saddles Brain Power (25/1) and high-class mare Verdana Blue (18/1) - which inflicted a shock defeat on Buveur D'Air in the Christmas Hurdle - as he eyes his eighth Champion Hurdle crown.
Apple's Jade and the Willie Mullins-trained Laurina (7/2) - which like Verdana Blue receive the 7lb mares' allowance - look his biggest dangers, however, in a vintage renewal.
Mullins also sends last season's runner-up Melon (14/1) and the rapidly-improving Sharjah (12/1) into battle while Ben Pauling's Global Citizen (40/1) and the Evan Williams-trained Silver Streak (50/1) complete the ten-strong field as Jessica Harrington decided to aim Supasundae at Friday's Stayers' Hurdle.
Mullins showed his rude health before heading to the Cotswolds with Pairofbrowneyes landing the Toalsbet Leinster National at Naas yesterday to lead home a 1-2-3 for the champion trainer, who also bagged a double on the day.
Paul Townend, who earlier scored in the beginners' chase aboard Chacun Pour Soi (4/9 favourite) in nonchalant fashion, partnered Pairofbrowneyes (12/1) to success in the €100,000 contest for the second year running to fend off stablemates Isleofhopendreams and Bellow Mome.
It kicked Townend (94 winners) ten clear of Rachael Blackmore in the race for the jump jockeys' title while it was also a memorable day for American-based rider Jack Doyle.
Doyle partnered Kaiser Black (15/8) to victory in the Grade Three Naas Directors Plate Novice Chase for his father Pat as the pair turned over Mullins' well-fancied Camelia De Cotte (6/4 favourite) by 11 lengths, the eight-year-old continuing his upward trajectory this season.