Ladies in Waiting! Apple’s Jade and Benie Des Dieux Clash at Gowran

Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott

Ahead of their assignments at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, two of Ireland’s best mares do battle at Gowran Park this Thursday. The absence of treble seeking Presenting Percy in the Galmoy Hurdle will be felt.

Nevertheless, both Apple’s Jade and Benie Des Dieux are sure to provide a spectacle in a cracking day’s racing from Ireland which includes the Thyestes Handicap Chase, for which our man Joe Eccles has three outsiders.

Here’s the lowdown on the clash, which features five other contenders. Be sure to check out our tips and analysis as we lead towards Trials’ Day at Cheltenham on Saturday where Santini is favourite for the Cotswold Chase.

Apple’s Jade

The doubters were out in full force after Gordon Elliott’s Apple’s Jade suffered her fifth successive defeat in the Hatton’s Grace at Fairyhouse in December. Honeysuckle was the new mare to follow and the ten-time winning Grade One winner was a spent force.

The eight-year-old proved them all wrong when bolting up in the Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle over Christmas though. First time pieces and a return to three-miles over which she’d won two of her three previous starts worked the oracle there.

The headgear is retained and the mare faces similar conditions at Gowran. It might just prove that three-miles is her ideal trip nowadays. Her narrow defeat in the Aintree Stayers’ Hurdle over this trip in April is head and shoulders above her four other efforts in her mini-slump over shorter distances earlier in 2019.

That being said, the form of her latest victory is rather weak. A horse rising twelve in Unowhatimeanharry was the next best, the third Penhill (who re-opposes today) is a long way short of his best, and the favourite Bacardys was never travelling. She did it easily, but she faces a rival behind whom she’s twice finished already and the pieces might not have the same desired effect today.

Benie Des Dieux

The prolific Benie Des Dieux returns to action as a warm-up for her return to the Mares’ Hurdle in which she was a dramatic faller last term. She’s won each of her other seven starts for Willie Mullins, including that contest at Cheltenham in 2018.

She made amends for that fall with two victories at the highest level in May. She routed a weak field in the Mares’ Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival before overcoming the warm favourite De Bon Coeur in a Grade One at Auteuil. That was her first start beyond two-miles-four, showing impressive stamina reserves to record an easy six-length victory.

The absence is of absolutely no concern at all, with her career best RPR coming after a 318 day lay off when a clear leader at Cheltenham before falling in March. She was travelling powerfully there ahead of Roksana when crashing down at the last. That rival subsequently finished narrowly ahead of Apple’s Jade at Aintree, form lines suggesting that Mullins’ charge has a shade in hand over Elliott’s mare.

Cheltenham Festival

The aim for Benie Des Dieux will surely be to reclaim her Mares’ Hurdle crown. She does hold an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle, but a possible clash with Paisley Park is likely to lead Mullins to send her down the easier route. A runaway success in the Galmoy, itself over three-miles, could force a rethink though.

Gordon Elliott will hopefully see Apple’s Jade as more likely to score at the Festival over three-miles than two-miles-four. She was twice behind Bacardys over the shorter trip she’d face at the Festival this term, himself a useful if not high class performer, prior to bolting up over three-miles last time.

Whilst the same concern of facing Paisley Park holds true for her, more current form suggests she’d struggle to lay with Benie Des Dieux over two-miles-four. Added to that, even when near her peak she was twice beaten by that rival, back in the spring of 2018.

She was a 1/2 favourite for the 2018 Mares’ Hurdle when behind both her and Midnight Tour. A similarly fate awaited at Punchestown the next month; again favourite, she trailed home in third over two-miles-four. Those efforts both add weight to the theories that she’s not good enough to beat her this year, as well as being a winter, rather than a spring horse.

Of the five other rivals, Penhill is on a retrieval mission after two underwhelming efforts this term. Death Duty was high class a few seasons back, but his best comes over fences and he’s not raced for 758 days. Gardens Of Babylon is far from exposed, but needs a clear career best to mix it. Killultagh Vic is at the end of his career and the outsider Mary Frances was beaten forty-lengths last time.

Verdict

This is a fascinating clash between two high class mares, one of whom was seemingly back to her best last time. There has to be some concern that Apple’s Jade will be in the same mood at Gowran Park though. The cheekpieces might not have a similar effect, and she isn’t racing at Leopardstown, a course at which she’s five-from-five.

Gordon Elliott’s mare was twice beaten by Benie Des Dieux in 2018. She’d won five starts prior to those defeats, whereas this time around she’s won just one of her last six. Yes, she impressed when winning last time out, but that was her first success in close to a year.

For me, Benie Des Dieux deserves to be clear favourite. She’s prolific and was mightily impressive on her first start over three-miles when scoring at Auteuil back in March. Despite being nine, she’s open to further improvement, particularly for the Mullins’ yard which is flying of late.

Whatever the outcome, this race will have big implications for the Cheltenham Festival antepost markets. An impressive victory for either mare could see a challenge to the hegemony of Paisley Park in the Stayers’ division. For that reason, make sure that Gowran Park is the focus of your attention tomorrow afternoon.

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