Classy Jade unlikely to take on D'Air
It may have been business as usual for Buveur D'Air at Sandown but the one horse which appears to stand between Nicky Henderson's eight-year-old and a third Champion Hurdle, Apple's Jade, looks destined to run in the mares' hurdle at Cheltenham.
Apple's Jade is a scrappy little thing who does not look much. She would not win a beauty contest if, as someone pointed out, she was the only contestant, but with horses the old maxim handsome is as handsome does has always held true and rarely has there been such a good example.
Clearly the most versatile horse in training regarding distance, at Christmas she won a Grade One over three miles at Leopardstown by 26 lengths and yesterday, dropping back to two miles for the first time in just over two years to land a 10th Grade One, she was equally destructive. Making all, as is her style, she galloped any sprint out of her rivals to beat Supasundae 16 lengths in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle and is as short as 2/1 "with a run" for the 'real' thing at Cheltenham.
Buveur D'Air's opposition at Sandown might have only been cannon fodder - Barry Geraghty toyed with Vision Des Flos up the run-in to win by two lengths - but Apple's Jade beat a better field and was the only one still galloping at the end of her race. She is entered in the Champion Hurdle, Stayers Hurdle and Mares' Hurdle and, reading between the lines, her trainer Gordon Elliott would like a shot at the Champion although, like a politician, he did not quite say as much.
However, Gigginstown's racing manager Eddie O'Leary, whose brother Michael owns them, said it was "long odds" she would be going for the mares' race, arguing: "We haven't got one gelding which qualifies for it! I don't think it shows a lack of ambition - I think people will remember her regardless of what she runs in at Cheltenham."
Though she won it two years ago, last year she was sent off 1/2 for the mares' and only finished third. But yesterday Elliott blamed himself for that for not running her between Christmas and March. "It's why we wanted to run her today," he said. "Two miles was the only race for her."
Speaking about the decision-making process and knowing that, in both business and recreation, Ryanair's Michael O'Leary is his own man, he added: "I'll have my say, Eddie will have his say and we'll do what Michael says!"
Meanwhile, Min, who but for Altior might have won a Supreme Hurdle and Champion Chase, was ridden like a 4/9 shot by Ruby Walsh in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase. He waited until they had jumped the last before sending him past Saint Calvados to beat Ordinary World comfortably but the race was marred by a fatal injury to 2017 Champion Chase winner Special Tiara, who was pulled up early on, while Simply Ned was a non-runner.
Joseph O'Brien is assembling quite a team for the Festival. He already has the first two in the betting, Fakir D'Oudaires and Sir Erec, in the Triumph Hurdle, and Le Richebourg's defeat of stable companion Us And Them, in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle means the winner will go to the Arkle with a better than sporting chance if his position as 5/1 favourite is anything to go by.
However, apart from Apple's Jade the most likely Cheltenham winner on show yesterday was Elliott's first winner, Commander Of Fleet, who won the two-and-three-quarter mile Nathaniel Lacy Solicitors Novice Hurdle by half a length from Rhinestone. He looked green, probably won easier than the margin suggested and will appreciate all of the three miles in the Albert Bartlett.