Cheltenham Festival: Annie Power back in action
Annie Power bids to follow in the hallowed hoofprints of record-breaking former stablemate Quevega when she makes a belated return to action in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham on Tuesday.
Quevega galloped into retirement when making history with a sixth successive victory for the Willie Mullins team in the Grade One over a two and a half miles last March.
She will be a virtually impossible task to follow, but Annie Power is extremely talented and her only defeat in 12 starts came when she was second to More Of That in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at last year's Festival.
Annie Power has been sidelined since winning at Punchestown in early May, but Mullins reports her in tip-top shape ahead of her comeback.
"We were just getting her ready for the Hatton's Grace when I had a bone scan done and it showed a pre-stress fracture," said the County Carlow trainer.
"I might still have been able to run her and win it, but the advice was that if she did run, it might fracture, so we stopped and pulled the plug.
"I set a date for January 1 and said if I could get her back on the gallop for then we'd have a chance of making Cheltenham and that's what we did.
"Everything has gone fine since and the right decision was made at the time.
"She showed last year that she is well up to winning the Mares' Hurdle.
"She only stayed over hurdles to be aimed at the Champion Hurdle, but the injury took the Champion out of the equation."
Ruby Walsh has ridden the seven-year-old in her last eight starts over hurdles and is looking forward to being reunited with her.
"She's in really good nick and I suppose of all my rides on the first day, she's definitely the most solid," said the jockey.
"She's been back on the go since January 1, she's hasn't missed a beat and hasn't missed a day.
"I think she's ready to rock."
Owner Rich Ricci has a formidable team going to Cheltenham, but believes Annie Power represents his greatest opportunity of success.
"I think she's our best chance of the week - on ratings she goes with a fantastic chance," said Ricci.
"Hopefully she stays on her feet and gets around, because I think she deserves to have a Cheltenham win."
Mullins also saddles Glens Melody, who was only beaten three-quarters of a length when runner-up to Quevega 12 months ago.
She is seen by many as the main danger to Annie Power after she showed her well-being with a facile victory at Warwick last month.
"She's in great form, she ran a fantastic trial in Warwick," said Mullins.
"She has been a little unlucky to be up against some good mares, but she went very close in the race last year."
L'Unique was only three-quarters of a length behind Glens Melody in third place last term and her trainer Alan King has a decent second string in The Pirate's Queen.
"The more the ground dries out the better their chance," the Barbury Castle trainer told www.alankingracing.co.uk.
"There is not much between the pair. L'Unique ran very well to finish third in the race last year, beaten only a length and a half, and she has always shown us that she is a spring mare.
"She thrived for her mid-season holiday at her owner's stud and has done plenty of work on the grass recently, so I am very happy with her, but, though there is no Quevega this time, there is Annie Power, so we know we face a tough task.
"However, we have two strings to our bow as we also saddle The Pirate's Queen.
"She, too, has had a break - we decided after Haydock to bring her here fresh - and she has enjoyed a good season, winning a Listed race and being placed in a Grade Two.
"She has a bit to find on the ratings, but her confidence is high and she would have an each-way chance."
Carole's Spirit had L'Unique back in third spot when winning at Kempton in November and her trainer Robert Walford sees Annie Power as almost invincible.
"I don't think she could beat Annie Power if she had 100 goes at her, but maybe she could be placed," said the Dorset trainer.
"We have been concentrating on trying to straighten up her jumping, because she jumped a bit right at Ascot. That seems fine now.
"If Annie Power turns up in top form, everyone is competing for a place - it's as simple as that."
Belfast Telegraph Digital