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Apple's Jade, with Keith Donoghue up, on the gallops. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Apple's Jade, with Keith Donoghue up, on the gallops. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
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The Jane Mangan column: I'm an Apple's Jade fan and she can deliver at Cheltenham 

THE waiting is finally over; lists have been made, holidays have been booked and Santa is in the skies ready to deliver the goods at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival!

Irish-trained horses have blown away their British counterparts in the Prestbury Cup for the last two years and it’s difficult to envisage them not making it a hat-trick this week.

Last year Ireland won no less than 19 Festival races with messrs Elliott and Mullins alone accounting for more than the total number of British trained winners combined. We might not have all the answers in the novice hurdle division but we’re strong everywhere else — just look at tomorrow’s line up!

The first day of Cheltenham is often the best day of the week and tomorrow’s Champion Hurdle is the race of the week in more ways than one. First and foremost, we can thank our lucky stars that Apple’s Jade and Laurina didn’t cop out and head for the mare’s hurdle — what a boring Champion Hurdle we would have then — basically a repeat of 12 months ago.

Fortunately, both mares take on the dual champion Buveur d’Air in what will be his biggest test to date. I’m very much an Apple’s Jade super fan and I’m not about to jump ship now.

She’s been sublime all season, improving with each start with her no-nonsense attitude and jaw-dropping cruising speed. I have the utmost respect for Laurina and Buveur d’Air, but I don’t think either horse has reached the level of Gordon Elliott’s mare this season and I’m quietly confident she can make it 11 Grade 1s by becoming only the fifth mare in history to win the Champion Hurdle.

Hardline and Davy Russell climb the hill. Picture: Healy Racing
Hardline and Davy Russell climb the hill. Picture: Healy Racing

Cork have a serious chance of getting on the scoresheet tomorrow with the Rebel county fielding a strong challenge in the Arkle Chase. Youghal rider Davy Russell has strong claims aboard the ever consistent Hardline — the only previous Grade 1 winning chaser in the field. Similarly, Glengoura man Jonathan Burke has serious claims with the Mick Channon-trained Glen Forsa while Carrigtwohill trainer Terence O’Brien isn’t without a chance courtesy of the unexposed Articulum.

The rain arriving won’t worry any of these horses and while the weight of the British pound will likely see Lalor or Kalashnikov go off favourite, I fancy Burke to come out on top in what appears a wide-open affair.

What would the Cheltenham Festival be without a Mullins/Ricci/Walsh banker? This notoriously formidable combination might not have the strength and depth of recent years, but they are still responsible for a certain Benie Des Dieux in the Mare’s Hurdle — many punters’ idea of the Day One banker.

Ruby Walsh is the Festival’s top jockey with a staggering 58 winners to his name and 2019 marks the 21st anniversary of his first ride at the meeting when he partnered his father’s Papillion to finish eighth in the Kim Muir.

Ruby Walsh on Benie Des Dieux. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan
Ruby Walsh on Benie Des Dieux. Picture: INPHO/Dan Sheridan

We might not know much about Benie Des Dieux other than she hasn’t been seen since winning this race last year, but if Ruby Walsh thinks she is his best ride of the 2019 meeting — I’m certainly not going to bet against him.

Looking beyond the favourite here, Jessica Harrington always makes her presence felt on the big day and it wouldn’t come as a surprise to many were Alletrix to outrun her massive odds in this race.

Running in the familiar Special Tiara colours and bred by the master of The Beeches Stud in Tallow, Bobby McCarthy, this Flemensfirth mare will relish testing ground and according to her rider Robbie Power, she will be ridden to be placed. Stranger things have happened.

The Four Mile National Hunt Chase for novices brings the curtain down on Day One and while much has been spoken about Derek O’Connor and OK Corral, I don’t think he represents any value at favouritism in a race of this nature.

On the other hand, Ballyward looks a bit more attractive considering he ran well at the Festival when fourth in the Martin Pipe Hurdle last season and put in a solid display at Naas on his last start.

The vibes from camp Mullins were that they were worried about his lack of experience so have since schooled him twice on the track after racing, at Leopardstown and Navan.

Connections won this race last year with a similar staying type, Rathvinden, and while this horse is still somewhat of an unknown quantity, he shouldn’t be out of the money in what is likely to be a war of attrition.