Annie Power out of Cheltenham due to leg injury
Champion Hurdle winner may not race again in new blow to Willie Mullins
Willie Mullins with Annie Power at his Co Carlow stables last February. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Annie Power, who has played a central role at the last three Cheltenham Festivals both in victory and defeat, will miss this year’s meeting and may not race again after suffering a leg injury at Willie Mullins’s Co Carlow stable on Wednesday morning.
The nine-year-old, who has won 15 of her 17 starts, was the first mare to win the Champion Hurdle for 22 years at Cheltenham last March and Rich Ricci, her owner, could decide to retire Annie Power for breeding if she is unable to run again this season.
Annie Power finally registered a victory at the festival at the third attempt last year, when she took the Champion Hurdle as a late replacement for her stablemate Faugheen, the winner of the race 12 months earlier.
In 2015, her fall at the final flight in the Mares’ Hurdle with the race at her mercy was a defining image of the meeting because it saved the betting industry a payout of at least £50 million (€59 million), while a year before that Annie Power met the first defeat of her career when favourite for what is now the Stayers’ Hurdle.
Annie Power’s latest injury is unrelated to the problem which kept her off the track from May 2015 until her Cheltenham prep race at Punchestown on February 17th last year.
“Normally when a horse gets an injury like that we give them a week or 10 days and then reassess and I think that’s what we’ll do. She’s going to be a huge loss to us this season.”
Speculation about Annie Power’s likely target at the meeting has been a feature of the run-up to the festival in recent years, and this season hopes had been rising among National Hunt fans that Ricci, who also owns Faugheen, would let his best hurdlers take each other on in the Champion Hurdle on March 14th.
That hope has now been dashed, but the depth of Mullins’s team for the Cheltenham is highlighted by the fact that he still trains the ante-post favourite for both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle, which had been seen as a possible alternative engagement for Annie Power.
Faugheen, who could run for the first time in a year in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday, is the 6-4 favourite to reclaim his crown in March while Vroum Vroum Mag, the winner of the Grade One Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting, is 7-4 for the Mares’ Hurdle.
However, the loss of one of his undisputed stars from hi s festival squad is still another blow to Mullins in an unusually difficult season as he attempts to rebuild the strength of his stable following a high-profile split with Michael O’Leary last year.
Petit Mouchoir, the winner of the Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas, is a case in point as the six-year-old has shown improved form this season since switching to Henry de Bromhead’s stable.
He is expected to line up in the Irish Champion Hurdle this weekend, regardless of whether Faugheen is in the field, and is the third-favourite with most bookmakers – behind Faugheen and Alan King’s Yanworth – for the Champion Hurdle.
If Annie Power is to race again this season the Punchestown Festival in late April, where she has taken the Grade One Champion Mares’ Hurdle in 2014 and 2015, now looks like the most plausible target.
Mullins trails Gordon Elliott, who took delivery of a significant number of O’Leary’s horses after the split, by about €300,000 in the Irish trainers’ championship. If Annie Power can be nursed back to full fitness in time, a further success at the meeting might yet prove significant in the title race.
Mullins will also be busy in Britain this weekend, as he will send Un De Sceaux to the rescheduled Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham on Saturday, and run Vroum Vroum Mag in a mares’ hurdle at Doncaster the same afternoon.
The trainer has also entered Whiteout, a surprise winner of a Grade One race at Punchestown last April, in a mares’ hurdle at Huntingdon on Friday. Guardian service