Willie Mullins is confident Annie Power will not be beaten for a lack of pace when she bids to make it third time lucky at the Cheltenham Festival in today’s Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Having finished runner-up to More Of That in the 2014 World Hurdle over three miles before suffering a well-publicised and heartbreaking final flight exit with the two-and-a-half-mile Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy 12 months ago, the brilliant mare now gets a shot at the two-mile hurdling crown.
With last year’s winner Faugheen suffering a season-ending injury a month ago, Annie Power was called up as the apparent super-sub and, after being supplemented at a cost of £20,000, she bids to become the first mare since Flakey Dove in 1994 to claim Champion Hurdle glory.
Mullins said: “She’s taken on geldings before and I don’t think coming back to two miles will be any problem.
“It’s just been that the races that have suited her have been over two and a half miles and then we tried her in the World Hurdle and it took a fair one to beat her on the day, I think.
“I think it might actually be easier for her to race over two miles with the pace they’ll be going. It will be easier to ride her, anyway.
Annie Power is one of three runners for Ireland’s champion trainer as he bids to win the event for a fourth time.
Nichols Canyon inflicted a shock defeat on Faugheen in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November and subsequently won the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown, but lines up at Prestbury Park with something to prove having finished a weary third behind his illustrious stable companion in January’s Irish Champion Hurdle.
Mullins also saddles Sempre Medici, but admits he needs to up his game. He said: “He has got to improve about 10lb to get involved. He is not rated in the 160s yet but I have got nothing else to run him in, unless he goes in a handicap off top weight and I don’t want that.”
Nicky Henderson has saddled a joint-record five previous winners of the Champion Hurdle and has five runners in this year’s renewal.
The quintet is headed by My Tent Or Yours, who was beaten just a neck by fellow JP McManus-owned runner Jezki in 2014, but has not been seen in competitive action since being beaten in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr the following month.
The master of Seven Barrows also saddles last year’s Triumph Hurdle one-two-three in Peace And Co, Top Notch and Hargam, as well as outsider Sign Of A Victory.
The New One was a luckless third two years ago and fifth in last year’s renewal and trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is in bullish mood ahead of his stable star’s return to Prestbury Park.
He said: “He is the best he has been for two seasons and I think he is better than when he won the Neptune.”
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Identity Thief narrowly denied Top Notch in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November before finding Nichols Canyon too strong at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Big-race jockey Bryan Cooper said: “He’s been very good and will probably be a bit better on better ground.”
Relkeel Hurdle winner Camping Ground comes back in trip after disappointing behind Thistlecrack in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January. With Old Guard having been ruled out by Paul Nicholls, a 12-strong field is completed by the supplemented National Spirit Hurdle winner Lil Rockerfeller, trained by Neil King.
2:50 Shanahan’s Turn
3:30 Annie Power (nap)
4:10 Vroum Vroum Mag
4:50 Noble Endeavor
5:30 Willow’s Saviour
1:15 Monbeg Dolly
1:45 Fiddler’s Flight
2:25 Lawless Island
5:00 Mount Mizooka
1:55 Spice Mill
2:35 Grandad Chunk
3:15 Hit The Lights
3:55 Addictive Dream
4:35 Limerick Lord
5:10 Blades Lad
5:40 Henry Smith
6:05 National Service
6:40 Golden Spun
Vroum Vroum Mag