Annie Power will face Big Buck’s in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle
On Sunday evening the speculation over which race the unbeaten Annie Power will contest at next week’s Cheltenham Festival ended when trainer Willie Mullins confirmed that she will take on Big Buck’s in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle on March 13.
The six-year-old also holds entries in the Champion and the Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day of the meeting but, with Mullins already strongly represented in those races with Hurricane Fly and Quevega respectively, the World Hurdle was always the most likely target.
Nevertheless, it’s not a decision that the County Carlow handler, who is long odds on to be crowned leading trainer at the Festival for the third time this year, will have taken lightly, as Annie Power has yet to race beyond two miles and four-and-a-half furlongs.
However, her big-race jockey Ruby Walsh appears confident that the 3m trip of the Grade 1 event will be within her range. Speaking to the media on Monday, Walsh said: ‘I think she will stay. Her pedigree is all stamina. She’s out of an Old Vic mare and she’s by Shirocco.’
Bookmakers clearly agree. Annie Power has displaced Big Buck’s, who Walsh partnered to each of his four victories in this race, as favourite for the stayers’ crown with virtually every firm – the sponsors go 2/1, but she’s generally a 15/8 chance and is as short as 7/4 in places.
Annie Power enhanced her career record to 10-10 when sauntering home in a Grade 2 at Doncaster on her latest start in January. She had little to beat on that occasion, but in her two previous starts this season she has faced the classy Zarkandar, and beat him fair and square on each occasion..
Tackling Big Buck’s will be an altogether tougher assignment, but Mullins’ mare has done everything that has been asked of her, and in good style. She remains an unknown quantity and the fact that she handled the undulations of Prestbury Park with aplomb on her penultimate start augurs well.
Big Buck’s was unbeaten in 18 starts over hurdles in Britain prior to finishing third on his eagerly-awaited comeback in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January. That was his first outing following an injury-induced absence of 13 months, so he is entitled to come on for the run.
The 11-year-old travelled supremely well in that contest under Sam Twiston-Davies, who will again be in the hot-seat on March 13, eventually beaten less than a length behind Knockara Beau and At Fishers Cross. It remains to be seen whether Big Buck’s is still the unstoppable force he was prior to his injury, but the 5/2 on offer about him with Paddy Power is bound to tempt punters.
McCoy sides with At Fishers Cross
At Fishers Cross, who beat The New One in the Neptune at last year’s Festival, returned to form fitted with first-time cheekpieces in the Cleeve, failing by a cat’s whisker to get the better of an epic battle with Knockara Beau. Tony McCoy has opted to ride Rebecca Curtis’ charge, a top-priced 13/2 with Bet Victor, ahead of the other JP McManus-owned contender, More of That.
The latter, available at 10/1 with several firms at the time of writing, is improving fast and saw off some smart rivals in the Relkeel Hurdle at Prestbury Park in December. The gelding has yet to race over farther than two miles and four-and-a-half furlongs, but his trainer Jonjo O’Neill, successful in this race in 2004 with Iris’s Gift, appears to be relatively confident that the trip won’t be a problem.
The champion jockey, who is search of his first victory in the World Hurdle, wrote in the Telegraph: ‘He won last year’s Albert Bartlett so we know he acts on the track and, having appeared to have lost the plot before Christmas, especially with his jumping, he was getting somewhere back towards his best in the Cleeve Hurdle when he was just touched off by Knockara Beau.’
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