Gordon Elliott went into this week’s Punchestown Festival with dreams of being champion jumps trainer in Ireland for the first time, but it looks likely to end in tears once more.
He was leading trainer at Cheltenham last month and bagged both the Irish and English Grand Nationals since although Elliott is on record stating he’d swap all those prizes to be crowned champion at Punchestown this weekend.
Alas for him, a barrage of ammunition has flowed from the Closutton yard of title rival Willie Mullins and they’ve been hitting the target with precision.
Elliott is up against it now but is fancied to end the season on a high note, regardless of whether or not it can save the dream.
Apple’s Jade was beaten at Cheltenham last month by Benie Des Dieux but can reverse that form at 6/4 in Saturday’s Annie Power Mares Champion Hurdle (15:50).
A tough performer, Apple’s Jade didn’t look herself at Cheltenham last month and wasn’t aided by getting into a duel with La Bague Au Roi long before it was desired. She duly had nothing to give in the finish as Benie Des Dieux won for Mullins.
Apple’s Jade would prove a match for the Rich Ricci-owned rival at her peak and she can show that form at a meeting where she has recorded impressive wins in the previous two years.
There should also be joy for Elliott with 9/4 chance Farclas in the Champion Four Year Old Hurdle (16:25).
The Triumph Hurdle winner has beaten off Mr Adjudicator into second spot twice this spring in Grade 1 races and can do so again now, with the mare Stormy Ireland – a late faller at Cheltenham – perhaps the bigger threat from Team Mullins on this occasion.
At Sandown it is also the finale of British jumps season although champion trainer Nicky Henderson is free of the type of worries Elliott and Mullins have battled this week, with his mantle secure.
The feature is the Celebration Chase (15:00) and it presents another chance to savour the unbeaten chasing superstar Altior.
He was forced to dig deep last month in winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham but showed his resolute nature in doing just that. He should prove peerless at Sandown in landing this Grade 1 for the second year running.
Later on the Sandown card Wholestone looks a good bet to win the Grade 2 Select Hurdle (16:05) for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies. He’s had to settle for minor honours at Cheltenham and Aintree but gets his chance here under in-form rider Daryl Jacob, and they can oblige at 13/8.
Owners Simon Munir and Isaac Suede landed this contest with L’ami Serge last season and their familiar two-tone green silks can be seen to good effect after what has been another strong week for connections.
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