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Faugheen tipped for a Power-ful return at Cheltenham

By Pat Smith

Willie Mullins expects Faugheen to return "as good as new" next season following the shock news he will not defend his title in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

Annie Power, another Mullins horse, moved to the head of the Champion Hurdle betting with victory in yesterday's Mares Hurdle, getting home as the red hot 1-20 favourite in the hands of Ruby Walsh, Faugheen's regular rider.

Eight-year-old Faugheen was a brilliant winner of the showpiece event on the opening day of last year's Festival and while he suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of stable companion Nichols Canyon on his seasonal reappearance in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, he bounced back with a second win in Kempton's Christmas Hurdle.

That was followed by a scintillating display in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

He was odds-on across the board to strike gold once more at Prestbury Park on March 15, but will have to watch on from the sidelines after suffering a suspensory ligament injury.

"We were starting back his countdown to Cheltenham. We had given him a nice easy time after Leopardstown and since we started back there was a little bit of soreness in his suspensory ligament," said Mullins yesterday.

"I gave him a few easy days and we went back at it again, and it flared up again.

"The prognosis is very good but we will just call it quits for this season and hopefully come back as good as new next season," he said.

"Our vet tells me he will be back 100% after it."

Ruby Walsh looked visibly shaken by the news of Faugheen's enforced absence - moments after riding stablemate Annie Power to victory at Punchestown.

"It's like someone whipping the ace out of the pack and handing you the rest of the cards," he said.

Faugheen's absence has unsurprisingly caused a major shake-up in the ante-post betting for the Champion Hurdle, but Mullins retains a formidable hand.

But in a fascinating twist Annie Power, who was previously under consideration for either the OLBG Mares Hurdle or the World Hurdle at Cheltenham, could now enter the Champion Hurdle reckoning following her successful reappearance just moments after the news of Faugheen's injury broke.

She would need to be supplemented on March 9 at a cost of £20,000, but the sponsors make her their 9-4 market-leader, ahead of Arctic Fire at 3-1 and Nichols Canyon at 9-2.

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