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Annie leads Mares' Hurdle hopefuls

Annie Power tops a list of 48 entries for the OLBG Mares' Hurdle which will be run as a Grade One contest for the first time at this year's Cheltenham Festival.

Her trainer Willie Mullins saddled Quevega to win the race for the last six years and Annie Power is even-money favourite with most bookmakers to pick up the baton and land the contest once again for the Irish champion trainer.

She is also entered in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, in which she finished second last year, but connections have indicated the mares' event is the favoured option.

Mullins also has last year's runner-up Glens Melody, Analifet, Gitane Du Berlais, Lyrical Theatre, Morning Run, Upsie and Vroum Vroum Mag in what is a record entry for the race.

Aurore D'Estruval appears likely to lead the home defence for John Quinn after winning a Listed event at Wetherby in November before going on to finish second to Irving in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle.

She returned to winning ways last time out with a comfortable two-length victory over fellow Cheltenham hopeful Dark Spirit in a Listed event at Sandown on January 3, when stepping up to two and a half miles for the first time.

Quinn said: "We are very pleased with Aurore D'Estruval. She is in good fettle and won't run again before Cheltenham.

"I was very happy at Sandown. The ground was barely raceable but she proved she gets the trip and we know she is better on nice ground.

"She is a good mare, who is young and going forward. She has improved and will go to Cheltenham with a decent chance."

The Robert Walford-trained Carole's Spirit is another leading chance after scoring an impressive eight-length victory on her seasonal reappearance at Kempton in November, while Carrigmoorna Rock won a Grade Three mares' event at Leopardstown over Christmas for Robert Tyner.

The third and fourth from last year's race, Alan King's L'Unique and the Tim Vaughan-trained Hidden Identity, are entered again, while Nicky Henderson's two entries are Listed scorers Polly Peachum and Mayfair Music.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls has just one entry in Tara Point, who has gained three victories in four starts including a Listed race at Taunton on December 30.

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