Apple’s Jade is the star on show at Navan on Sunday as she bids to win the Grade 2 Lismullen Hurdle (13:05) for the third year in succession. Her campaign tailed off in disappointing fashion last season, falling well short of expectations in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and the Punchestown Champion Hurdle, but she had made an imperious start and looked better than ever when winning the Christmas Hurdle and Irish Champion Hurdle (both at Leopardstown).
She is a high-class hurdler, has a clear edge on ratings and has an excellent record at the start of the season so she will prove difficult to beat. The odds are likely to reflect that, however, with Bacardys and Magic of Light her only credible challengers.
Abacadabras, who like Apple’s Jade is trained by Gordon Elliott and will be ridden by Robbie Power, was a smart bumper performer and created a good impression on his hurdles debut at Gowran Park last month. The Champion Bumper fourth avoided mistakes at Gowran, winning with plenty in hand, and he can take the step up in class in his stride in the Grade 3 For Auction Novice Hurdle (12:35). Elliott has won the race twice in the last five years, as has his great rival Willie Mullins, who relies on Fast Buck.
Fast Buck lost his unbeaten record when upped in trip at Limerick, but he performed with credit and may have put up more of a fight had his rider not lost his irons at the final flight. He is clearly a big player but could be vulnerable to Abacadabras, who appeals as having more talent and is an exciting prospect.
Fast Buck’s owner Jared Sullivan and Mullins could have more joy with impressive Arkle winner Duc des Genievres, who makes his reappearance in the Grade 2 Fortria Chase (14:10). The form of the Arkle has taken a few knocks, but Duc des Genievres routed his rivals at Cheltenham, relishing the testing conditions, and he can be forgiven a subsequent defeat on a sounder surface at Punchestown.
This is a strong race, featuring another Cheltenham Festival winner in A Plus Tard and the prolific Ballyoisin, but Duc des Genievres will have conditions in his favour on his reappearance and is expected to prove too good.
Mullins will be eyeing this season’s Arkle with Melon, who makes his first start over fences in the beginners’ chase (15:15). He was a very smart hurdler and finished runner-up in the last two editions of the Champion Hurdle. However, he was not a fluent jumper of hurdles and was operating below his best last season, so could be one to be wary of at a short price.
In the maiden hurdle (13:35) Andy Dufresne is an eye-catching recruit to hurdling following impressive victories in points and on his bumper debut. He was an expensive purchase after winning between the flags and justified strong support on his bumper debut at Down Royal, looking a fine prospect as he eased to a 10-length success.
There’s also an interesting card at Sandown, which features the return of Cheltenham Gold Cup prospect Santini (14:25). The lightly-raced seven-year-old was one of last season’s leading novice chasers and finished runner-up in a stellar edition of the RSA Chase on just his third start over fences. He has yet to show everything he has to offer over fences and should have little trouble in brushing aside his three rivals on Sunday, for all Talkischeap was an impressive winner of the Bet365 Gold Cup and isn’t far behind on ratings.