Gordon Elliott happy with Apple's Jade as classy mare defends Cheltenham crown

Apple's Jade leads the Gordon Elliott string at Cheltenham

Gordon Elliott reports Apple's Jade in tip-top shape as she goes for back-to-back victories in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday.

The County Meath handler could not be happier with the six-year-old ahead of the defence of her crown.

"This year we've had a very clear run," said Elliott.

"Last year she was a bit weak and we had a few niggly problems, whereas this year we've had a clear run the whole way.

"I was always taught to go for the race you can win."

Elliott's great rival Willie Mullins is two-handed with Benie Des Dieux and Pravalaguna as he tries for a ninth win in this race.

"Benie Des Dieux has the enviable task of taking on Apple's Jade and, to my eye, she looks better now this year than last year," said Mullins' son and assistant, Patrick.

"We think Benie is very good and is as good as Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini. We are expecting her to give Apple's Jade a race but she will be very hard to beat.

"She has had two runs this season and they have both been over fences. She is a fabulous jumper and coming back to hurdles won't be a problem.

"She is unexposed and I think she is capable of more improvement."

Pravalaguna will be an outsider, but the Mullins jnr said:"It is a small field and she handles the soft ground well. We are just hoping that she can try and sneak into the prize-money."

Pick of the home team is the Warren Greatrex-trained La Bague Au Roi, winner of all her three starts this season.

"She is in good form and the rain won't hurt much," said Greatrex.

"It will make it much more of a staying race and that should help her as she has won over three miles twice this season.

"Apple's Jade has looked brilliant, but I do think this mare is improving and if things go to plan, she should go well."

Alan King is hoping Midnight Tour can fare better than last year when she was sixth behind Apple's Jade.

The Barbury Castle handler said: "She was unlucky at the Festival last year.She made a bad mistake and she got shuffled back but she was powering up the hill.

"At Warwick she nearly got put through a wing at the second-last and she was again finishing faster than anything (when third to Woolstone One).

"She might not win it but she could be in the money. She goes on the soft but she would be better on better ground."