JADE HOLDS OFF MULLINS' PAIR TO LAND MARES' BIG RACE
Betting on the OLBG Mares' Hurdle suggested it would be a three-horse race, and so it proved, but not in the bookies' order.
Apple's Jade, the 7/2 shot and outsider of the fabulous threesome, came out on top by one and a half lengths, with last year's winner Vroum Vroum Mag (11/4) a nose in front of her Willie Mullins-trained stablemate, the 6/4 favourite Limini.
All three were trained by Mullins last season, but Apple's Jade owner, Michael O'Leary moved all his horses from that yard during the autumn in a disagreement over training fees. Gordon Elliott was the lucky recipient of Apple's Jade, who was ridden today by O'Leary's jockey, Bryan Cooper.
On her latest start Apple's Jade was beaten by Limini at Punchestown, but Elliott said: "Today was her Gold Cup. We knew the ground would suit her and I put a tongue tie on for the first time and thankfully it worked out.
"We kept our mouths shut after Punchestown because we knew she would come on a good bit for it. The tongue tie and drying ground were a big help. You don't want to get beat, but knowing she would improve we were fine, and she's as tough as old boots.
"She'll definitely run at the Punchestown Festival."
Cooper said: "They didn't go a great gallop early and my mare was a bit keen, but I got into a lovely rhythm and she flew her hurdles.
"She winged the last and is a real battler - she outbattled Vroum Vroum Mag at Fairyhouse and I was confident she would do it today.
"We knew there was improvement to come from Punchestown and that today's longer trip would help - it's a great job done."
Michael O'Leary said: "It is a great training performance by Gordon. He gave her a run there a couple of weeks ago and felt she had come on for it. Apples's Jade needed to stretch them. I thought Bryan gave her an extraordinary ride. She was down coming to the last but she battles. They are three very good mares.
"We all love Cheltenham. The amphitheatre is incredible and the racing is very tough. I have never had a winner on the Tuesday, so it is great to have the pressure off. Now I know how Willie Mullins feels banging in winners on the first day. Normally, I am here sweating on the last day!
"I am delighted for Gordon and his team at Cullentra. They do a great job. It is great for Bryan too."
SECOND AND THIRD FOR MULLINS
Willie Mullins may have won the past eight runnings of the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, but a ninth success eluded him as Apple's Jade, who moved from his yard to that of Gordon Elliott at the start of the season, beat the Mullins pair of Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini into second and third places.
Paul Townend rode Vroum Vroum Mag, last year's winner of the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, to beat the Ruby Walsh-ridden Limini, the 6/4 favourite, by a nose. Vroum Vroum Mag was a length and half behind Apple's Jade.
Both Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini are owned by Rich Ricci, who said: "It was a great race. I thought it was the best race of the day. Apples Jade is a multiple Grade One winner, and anyone who asked me today who was going to win, Apple's Jade was my answer all day. I think she's a very, very good mare and I knew she would come on for that Punchestown run [where she was beaten two lengths by Limini].
"I think it's fair enough; I don't think there any excuses. Paul [Townend, on Vroum Vroum Mag] jumped the last in front and Apples Jade is just a very good mare.
"It's like the Cheltenham Oaks - it was great to see how many good horses turned up. You had three Grade One winners and Limini.
"It's got to be the first time Willie [Mullins] hasn't had a winner on the Tuesday of the Festival, so I hope Arbre De Vie [who runs in the next race, the JT McNamara National Hunt Chase] can change that luck!"
Paul Townend said: "Vroum Vroum Mag ran a cracker; I came down the hill great, straightened up and I thought I would win at the back of the last, but got seen out of it in the end."
Ruby Walsh, who rode Limini, said: "The winner is a very good mare."
4.10pm OLBG Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1)
1 APPLE'S JADE (Gigginstown House Stud) Gordon Elliott IRE 5-11-05 Bryan Cooper 7/2
2 Vroum Vroum Mag (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 8-11-05 Paul Townend 11/4
3 Limini (Susannah Ricci) Willie Mullins IRE 6-11-05 Ruby Walsh 6/4 Fav
Distances: 1½, Nose, 3¾, ½
Time: 5m 13.98s
Tote Win: £4.30 Places: £1.50; £1.50; £1.40 Exacta: £14.60
Gordon Elliott - 10th winner at The Festival
Bryan Cooper - 7th winner at The Festival
BetBright Cup - standings after 5 races
Great Britain 3