At forecast odds of around 1/20, it is widely assumed that Annie Power will pass her Cheltenham prep with flying colours at Punchestown tomorrow, but where she heads after remains up in the air.
The recent money suggests that another crack at the World Hurdle, a race in which she finished second in 2014, might be on the cards.
In the past week, Willie Mullins’ mare has been backed in from 9/2 to 7/2 for the three mile contest that she was denied only by More of That two years ago.
While the longer race undoubtedly offers more prestige, an opportunity to bag what should be a gimme in the Mares’ race shouldn’t be sniffed at.
The talented chestnut had the race at her mercy when coming down at the final flight at Cheltenham last year, much to the dismay of punters and relief of bookmakers.
She quickly made amends by mopping up the Mares’ Champion Hurdle at Punchestown by 10 lengths, taking her win tally up to 12 from 14.
Having been beaten on both visits to Prestbury Park, it would be somewhat of a travesty to the mare herself that an animal of her quality is denied a Cheltenham Festival success.
While it’s hard to say she didn’t stay the three mile trip of the World Hurdle – she had the likes of At Fishers Cross, Reve De Sivola and one, Big Buck’s, behind her after all – the eight-year-old is all about her excellent cruising speed.
You’d have to fancy her to easily dispose of the likes of Polly Peachum and Bitofapuzzle, two mares well under control when coming down last year, if taking in the female-only contest.
The only horse anywhere Annie Power in the betting is stable-mate Vroum Vroum Mag, who is almost certain not to take on her fellow Ricci-owned inmate.
The latter easily disposed of the other two mares in the top six in the betting – Aurore D’Estruval and The Govaness – at Ascot last time out, giving them both weight.
That race came over just shy of three miles, showing that stamina should be of no problem if Rich and Susannah Ricci wanted a representative in the World Hurdle.
Unlike Annie Power, the bulk of her wins in the past 12 months have come at trips of two-and-a-half miles, all since joining Willie Mullins on soft or heavy ground.
There is clearly plenty of stamina in reserve for the daughter of Voix Du Nord, so sending her to have a crack at Thistlecrack – an extremely strong stayer – looks a better option.
Whether she possesses the class of Annie Power is unclear, but her profile screams that she will be a better stayer of the pair.
She has had three runs this term so will be fully wound up for any battle that she might get into at Cheltenham, while there is a danger that Annie Power could come into the Festival under-cooked if Wednesday’s race is as much of a procession as the odds imply.
Even at 80 per cent, the majority of the racing world would expect her to dispose of what is frankly a sub-standard group of mares that would take her on in the Tuesday race – as long as she gets over the last, obviously.
Some believe that the Shirocco mare has the pace to challenge in a Champion Hurdle.
We probably won’t see that put to the test with the owners possessing such riches, but if she were to go without a Cheltenham win, it would really be an injustice to the sport, and taking in the Mares Hurdle gives us the best chance to witness just that occurrence.
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing