Annie Power future uncertain after leg injury rules out festival
Willie Mullins expects to have a clearer idea within the next ten days of the extent of Annie Power's latest injury setback which has ruled her out of the Cheltenham Festival and possibly the rest of the season and beyond.
The reigning champion hurdler suffered a leg injury on Tuesday, and on Wednesday morning Mullins revealed she had injured a ligament under her knee and would not be defending her crown or tackling the festival's OLBG Mares' Hurdle.
As recently as Monday Mullins had refused to rule out the possibility of Annie Power and 2015 Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen, who will make his first appearance of the season in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Sunday, taking each other on at Cheltenham in the Stan James Champion Hurdle. But after pleasing in a piece of work on Tuesday, that scenario quickly disappeared.
Mullins said the injury was unrelated to the setback that kept her off the track between May 2015 and her belated reappearance last year.
The champion trainer said on Wednesday: "We were very pleased with the way Annie Power worked on Tuesday but I got a call from the yard in the afternoon – I was away working horses at the Curragh – saying that she was giving our staff some cause for concern.
"We had her checked out this morning and discovered that she had injured a ligament under her knee. It isn't the leg she had problems with in the past and you could call it her good leg, for want of a better word. Cheltenham is definitely out and beyond that we'll just have to wait and see."
Mulins earmarked the Punchestown festival at the end of April as the earliest possible return for the nine-year-old.
He added: "A lot will depend on how long it takes for the injury to heal. It could be six to nine weeks but sometimes it takes a lot longer. We'll reassess the situation in a week to ten days' time and we should know then if she might make Punchestown."
Annie Power had traded at odds of between 2-1 and 6-1 for the Champion Hurdle and was favourite for the Mares' Hurdle before the news of her absence from Cheltenham jolted ante-post markets.
Her injury intensifies the spotlight on stablemate Faugheen and his return from a year's absence at Leopardstown on Sunday as bookmakers on Wednesday shortened the nine-year-old into a top-priced 13-8 (from 7-4) for the Champion Hurdle.
Faugheen on Wednesday was as low as 4-5 in a place while Yanworth (4-1 from 9-2) and Petit Mouchoir (6-1 from 7) have also been shortened. Paddy Power, who go non-runner no bet, have Racing Post Arkle favourite Altior quoted at 2-1 and JLT Novices' Chase favourite Yorkhill at 5-1.
The Mullins-trained Vroum Vroum Mag, who is on course to race at Doncaster on Saturday, heads the Mares' Hurdle betting at 7-4 (from 2). Apple's Jade is next best at 2-1 (9-4), while Limini, who like Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag is trained by Mullins and owned by Rich Ricci, has been cut to 4-1 (from 7).
Mullins, who before the setback had Annie Power lined up to return at Punchestown on February 22, remains the 4-6 favourite for the Irish trainers' title, with Gordon Elliott 11-10.