Believe the hype – Annie Power can end Big Buck’s dominance of the World Hurdle 2014
Annie Power was the Pricewise antepost tip for the Champion Hurdle although Willie Mullins has finally pinned his colours to the mast and declared that the highly-rated mare will take her place in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle instead
Mullins apparently had to persuade owner Rich Ricci that the three-mile race on Day Three of the Festival was the best route for the six-year-old despite the fact that Annie Power has never gone that far during an unbeaten career which will be severely tested at the Cheltenham Festival.
Having twice twice beaten Zarkandar this season, this is a horse that oozes class and the odds have started to tumble from 3/1 since the announcement was made, with bet365 among those firms currently holding 15/8. We’re anticipating that Annie Power’s SP could be as short as 6/4 depending on what happens on Day One and Day Two of the Festival.
One should also bear in mind that she will receive a mares’ allowance of 5lb which could be a big positive if there is cut in the ground, with jockey Ruby Walsh feeling confident that she will get the trip irrespective of the ground.
“Willie has asked my opinion and everything had to be weighed up and we all felt it is the right race for her,” said Walsh, who will go up against a horse that he has ridden to four victories in this race.
“There are four or five outstanding horses in the Champion Hurdle and maybe two, possibly three, in the World Hurdle.”
There is one huge obstacle standing in the way of the mare and that comes in the form of Big Buck’s, a legendary horse who has already won four World Hurdles and that’s despite the Paul Nicholls charge having to miss the Festival last season with injury.
The eleven-year-old was absent from the track for fourteen months until appearing for the Cleeve Hurdle at the end of January, with Sam Twiston-Davies seemingly getting the horse into a winning position before Knockara Beau and At Fisher’s Cross were able to pass him on the run-in.
Nicholls declared himself happy with that performance after such a long lay-off, although the prospect of Walsh riding against Big Buck’s might put a lot of punters off, with that January defeat the first time the horse has been beaten since 29 November 2008.
Nevertheless, the trainer has put up the horse as his best chance at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, which perhaps reflects the loyalty Nicholls has for a horse that has served him so well, along with the fact that Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have started to dominate proceedings on the National Hunt scene.
“I’d still go with Big Buck’s [as my best chance at the meeting],” Nicholls said after parading the pick of his Festival runners at his stable in Somerset. “I was really thrilled with his comeback run, he loves this time of year, he’s coming right and I still think he’s got as big a chance as anything we’ve got running there.”
This season’s World Hurdle is by no means a straight shoot-out between the first two in the betting and Rebecca Curtis is feeling especially bullish about At Fishers Cross who beat the current race favourite last time out even if the horse was only able to finish second in the Cleeve.
Curtis will be hoping that the ground stays on the soft side for her talented hurdler who obliged in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival twelve months ago, following up that success with the spoils at Aintree although the last three runs have failed to yield a victory.
Curtis said: “He ran great in the Cleeve and is definitely coming back to as good as he was. He has improved so much since Ascot, but he won’t be going anywhere before Cheltenham. We’ll freshen him up at home and that should put him bang-on.”
Quevega is priced at 9/1 although connections will want to make history by seeing the mare win a sixth Mares Hurdle on the Tuesday, with More Of That and Rule The World attracting more each-way money as we approach the Festival.
More Of That is another unbeaten horse in the race who won the Relkeel Hurdle at Cheltenham in December, although the six-year-old is inexperienced, having ran just four times and might find the pace a bit too hot to handle from his rivals.
Rule The World finished second to The New One in the 2013 Neptune and has continued to run over these sort of distances this season, although the horse was found badly wanting when finishing fourth out of five in early December as Jezki claimed a Grade 1 victory.
Even so, Mouse Morris has aimed his charge at this race and claims that the horse has enough raw potential to get into contention, irrespective of whether Annie Power lines up to take her chances.
Zarkandar will be the Paul Nicholls second string horse in the race, with the seven-year-old simply not having the speed to live with the best runners over two miles, although he scored a big victory at Aintree last year when claiming the Aintree Hurdle against the likes of The New One and Oscar Whisky.
Monksland is as short as 12/1 in places, although the Noel Meade runner has yet to feature since December 2012 and Fingal Bay could present a better each-way chance at odds of 25/1, with the horse winning on heavy ground at Exeter in early February.
The eight-year-old appears to be somewhere back to his best, having previously beaten the impressive Simonsig earlier in his career and Philip Hobbs is hopeful of a big run from a horse that can be backed at a big price.
RECOMMENDATION: Annie Power @ 6/4 with William Hill