Apple Jade to face Willie Mullins quartet at Punchestown
Willie Mullins will send four runners into battle with Apple's Jade in Saturday's Irish Stallion Farms European Breeders Fund Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
Despite the defection of Annie Power, the Closutton handler maintains a strong hand in the Grade One contest, with stable jockey Ruby Walsh interestingly opting for the unexposed Karalee over her more experienced stablemates.
The six-year-old faces a big step up in class, but bolted up on her latest appearance at Limerick and was supplemented for this race.
Mullins also saddles Augusta Kate (Paul Townend), who won a Grade One prize at Fairyhouse a fortnight ago, as well as last year's winner Whiteout (David Mullins) and Airlie Beach, who is reunited with Danny Mullins for the first time since wining the Royal Bond in December.
Apple's Jade undoubtedly sets the standard. The former Mullins inmate has won the Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse and the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham since joining Gordon Elliott.
Elliott, who will be hoping to seal his first trainer's title on Saturday, has also declared Barra.
The seven-strong line-up is completed by Phil Kirby's British challenger Lady Buttons, who has won her last three starts in handicaps but faces a much tougher test this weekend.
The final Grade One event of this year's Punchestown Festival is the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle.
Elliott's Mega Fortune sets the standard after chasing home star juvenile Defi Du Seuil in the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham. He is joined by stable companion Dinaria Des Obeaux.
Should the title race still be alive at this stage, perennial champion Mullins will be hoping one of Bapaume, Dandy Mag or Meri Devie can come out on top.
Joseph O'Brien's Landofhopeandglory and On The Go Again from Michael Mulvany's yard make up the field.