A high-quality, seven-race card at Gowran Park takes centre stage on Racing TV on Thursday and we are set for a midweek treat with Apple’s Jade, Benie Des Dieux and Penhill taking each other on in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle.
The trio have won 17 Grade Ones between them and there is only a 2lb difference on the ratings between them, with Penhill rated 155, and Benie Des Dieux and Apple’s Jade both on 157.
Death Duty - a horse who looked to have a huge amount of potential in 2017 - returns from a lengthy absence and it will be interesting to see how he fares after two years off the track.
Willie Mullins has been operating at a strike-rate of 33 per cent in the past fortnight and seeks his fourth victory in this Grade Two contest. He is represented by Benie Des Dieux, Penhill and Killultagh Vic.
Here is a guide to all seven runners plus a verdict ahead of what is going to be a mouthwatering clash which will be shown live on Racing TV at 1.50pm.
1. APPLE’S JADE
Official rating: 157. Trainer: Gordon Elliott. General odds: 6-4.
Our experts analyse Apple's Jade's impressive victory at Leopardstown last time out
Has won no less than 11 Grade Ones and bounced back to form last time out after a couple of below-par runs.
The superstar mare proved she still retains an abundance of ability when scoring by 17 lengths in the Frank Ward Memorial Hurdle, with Penhill and Killultagh Vic adrift in third and fifth respectively.
A repeat of that performance will see her prove hard to beat with Davy Russell, who has won the Galmoy Hurdle four times, in the saddle.
She also retains the cheekpieces which seemed to spark her revival at Leopardstown last month and the trip and ground will be ideal for her.
2. BENIE DES DIEUX.
Official rating: 157. Trainer: Willie Mullins. General odds: 11-10.
Watch how Benie Des Dieux scored at the Punchestown Festival
Broke the hearts of many punters when she fell at the last with the race at her mercy in the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last year but quickly made amends with a smooth victory in the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown.
She went on to record her fourth Grade One victory in the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil a month later.
The nine-year-old lacks a recent run here and meets race-fit rivals. However, her run at last year’s Cheltenham Festival was her first of the season and she certainly did not lack for fitness there.
Mullins may believe she does need a prep run now though given her age, and this may be a pipe-opener ahead of the Festival, but she has some of the strongest form on offer and has won all of her completed starts since joining the trainer, so is sure to be involved in the finish.
3. DEATH DUTY
Official rating: 144. Trainer: Gordon Elliott. General odds: 20-1.
Dual Grade One winner who looked a future star over fences when winning his first three starts over the larger obstacles but has not been seen since falling in a Grade One at Leopardstown in 2017.
Returns to hurdles here after a 758-day absence and faces a number of highly-talented rivals plus lacks match practise.
Remains relatively lightly-raced for a nine-year-old but this will be a big ask after such a lengthy lay-off and he seems sure to improve for the run.
4. KILLULTAGH VIC
Official rating: 148. Trainer: Willie Mullins. General odds: 25-1.
Killultagh Vic was well beaten by Apple's Jade last time out
Has some strong form next to his name over fences and hurdles and finished third behind Presenting Percy in this contest last year.
However, the 11-year-old has run disappointingly on his first two starts this season and has plenty to find with Apple’s Jade, who he finished 25 lengths behind last time out.
Has failed to get his head in front for more than two years now and will need to find his old sparkle to play a part in the finish.
Official rating: 155. Trainer: Willie Mullins. General odds: 11-1.
Dual Cheltenham Festival winner who has shaped with promise in two starts without troubling the judge since returning from a lengthy absence in December.
He should be back to his peak now he has those two runs under his belt and the nine-year-old is closely matched with Benie Des Dieux and Apple’s Jade on the ratings.
He is likely to get much closer to Apple’s Jade – who he finished third behind last time out after racing keenly – this time, although he will need to bring his A-game to have any chance of turning the tables.
6. GARDENS OF BABYLON.
Official rating: 139. Trainer: Joseph Patrick O’Brien. General odds: 20-1.
Has scored twice over hurdles and was placed in two Grade Ones – including the Triumph Hurdle – last season.
Steps up significantly in trip here and has shaped as though it will suit, although he does need to prove he stays three miles.
Ran a good race to finish second at Limerick in December where he jumped well and found only Soviet Pimpernel too good.
Remains with potential and is still only a five-year-old, but his form does not match what the leading players have achieved, and he needs to step forward again to trouble the leading protagonists.
7. MARY FRANCES.
Official rating: 126. Trainer: Martin Hassett. General odds: 100-1.
Went close when runner-up on her first two starts this season – both over three miles – but was well beaten in a Grade Three at Leopardstown last time out.
The return to three miles should suit and conditions will not be a hinderance with both of her victories coming on soft and heavy ground.
Gets a handy allowance here but is likely to be outclassed based on the form she has shown so far.
Harry Allwood's verdict:
This is an intriguing contest on paper. APPLE'S JADE has not always shown her true colours in recent months but was hugely impressive at Leopardstown on her last start and, if she is in the same form, then she will be the one to beat and looks the one to be on.
Benie Des Dieux would be unbeaten in eight starts since joining Willie Mullins but for a fall at last year’s Cheltenham Festival. She is a high-class mare and has won three times after a 150-plus day break in the past.
It would be no surprise if 2018 Stayers’ Hurdle winner Penhill was there at the finish now he has had two runs after an absence but will need to be at his best to defeat the front two in the market.
Death Duty has the potential to be much better than a rating of 144 but is likely to improve for the run given he has not been seen on a racetrack for over two years.
The rest of the field need to up their game considerably to be involved in the finish.
1. Apple’s Jade 2. Benie Des Dieux 3. Penhill
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