03/14/2016 12:50PM

Cheltenham: Annie Power seeks redemption in Champion Hurdle


CHELTENHAM, England – Annie Power holds a dubious role in the recent history of the National Hunt Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse.

In 2015, Annie Power was comfortably leading the Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham as the 1-2 favorite when she fell at the 10th and final hurdle. A win, which seemed certain in early stretch, would have been the fourth that day for trainer Willie Mullins.

Annie Power is back on the same program Tuesday at Cheltenham. An 8-year-old mare by Shirocco, Annie Power was the 2-1 favorite in early betting Monday to win the $572,000 Champion Hurdle at two miles.

The Grade 1 Champion Hurdle is 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.

The Gold Cup program sold out in late February. A crowd of more than 70,000 is expected. Approximately 55,000 are expected Tuesday.

At the start of the year, Annie Power was considered more likely for Tuesday’s Mares’ Hurdle than the Champion Hurdle. At the time, Mullins had Faugheen, the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner, and Arctic Fire as leading contenders. Both have been sidelined by injury, which led Annie Power to be supplemented to the Champion Hurdle for approximately $28,500 last week.

A winner of 13 of 15 starts, Annie Power races for Susannah Ricci, the wife of Rich Ricci, an American-born and England-based former top executive with Barclays investment bank.

Annie Power has won twice since she fell in the 2015 Mares’ Hurdle, winning the Mares’ Champion Hurdle at Punchestown, Ireland, last May at the end of the 2014-15 steeplechase season, and the Punchestown.com Mares Hurdle at 2 1/2 miles by 6 1/2 lengths as the 1-20 favorite over two rivals Feb. 17.

In the Champion Hurdle, Mullins also starts Nicholls Canyon, who had a four-race streak of wins in Grade 1 races end with a third-place finish to Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle on Jan. 24 at Leopardstown.

Mullins has won three of the last five runnings of the Champion Hurdle, which was first run in 1927. Annie Power could become the fourth mare to win the race and first since Flakey Dove in 1994.

The Riccis and Mullins could have a big day Tuesday. In the first race of the day, they start the strongly favored Min in the Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at two miles, a race that sometimes offers a preview of contenders for the following year’s Champion Hurdle.

In the day’s second race, they start odds-on favorite Douvan in the Grade 1 Arkle Challenge, a two-mile race for novice steeplechasers. Douvan won the 2015 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.