03/15/2016 12:40PM

Cheltenham: Annie Power beats boys in Champion Hurdle


CHELTENHAM, England - Annie Power became the first mare in more than 20 years to win the $572,000 Champion Hurdle, run at Cheltenham Racecourse on Tuesday.

The victory was a remarkable fourth win in the last six years in the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle for jockey Ruby Walsh, trainer Willie Mullins, and owner Susannah Ricci.

Sent off as the 5-2 favorite in a field of 12, Annie Power went to the lead and put away the pesky My Tent Or Yours at the final hurdle before drawing off to win the race at 2 1/16 miles by 4 1/4 lengths. My Tent Or Yours held second, a head in front of Nichols Canyon. Walsh celebrated the win with vigorous fist pump at the finish and was lauded by a massive crowd with chants of “Ru-by, Ru-by” after the wire.

The final time of 3:45.10 was a course record. The previous mark of 3:45.25 set by Jezki in 2014.

Annie Power was Mullins's third-string runner for the race and inherited the role of favorite after setbacks to 2015 winner Faugheen and Arctic Fire.

“I didn’t expect her to do that,” said Mullins. “I was hoping she could do that. I wasn’t sure she could run to expectations and she exceeded my hopes.”

Annie Power was tracked by My Tent Or Yours and The New One for much of the race.

“They went a good gallop, but I always felt I was well within myself,” Walsh said.

“I had a plan and I stuck to it. I let her roll. She answered when I gave her a kick and quickened up and flew the last.”

Annie Power, an 8-year-old mare by Shirocco, has won 14 of 16 starts. She is the fourth mare to win the Champion Hurdle, and first since Flakey Dove in 1994.

The win largely erased the memory of Annie Power’s loss in the Mares’ Hurdle on this day last year. She had a comfortable lead as the 1-2 favorite in that race, but fell at the final hurdle. Annie Power has not lost in three subsequent starts.

The Champion Hurdle was the richest race on Tuesday’s seven-race program, the first of four days of hurdle and steeplechase racing at Cheltenham. Friday’s program is highlighted by the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the most prestigious race of the week.

Tuesday’s program was a big day for Walsh, Mullins and Ricci, the wife of Rich Ricci, an American-born and England-based former top executive with Barclays investment bank. Earlier on the program, they won the Grade 1 Arkle Challenge, a two-mile race for chasers, with Douvan, the 1-4 favorite.

In the race following the Champion Hurdle, Walsh, Mullins and the Riccis won the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle with Vroum Vroum Mag, the 4-6 favorite. Mullins has won eight of the nine runnings of the Mares’ Hurdle, including the last seven.