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Wednesday, 12 December, 2018

Champion Hurdle heroine Annie Power deals another devastating blow to rivals

Annie Power and Ruby Walsh lead the way at Aintree yesterday from My Tent Or Yours (right), The New One (second left) and Camping Ground
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First published on Friday, April 8, 2016

Willie Mullins had won four of the last six Champion Hurdles but until yesterday the trainer's extraordinary reach had not extended to the Doom Bar Aintree Hurdle.

A race synonymous with greats of the past such as Night Nurse, Monksfield and Dawn Run – trained by Mullins' father Paddy – had consistently eluded Ireland's champion jumps trainer.

Last year Arctic Fire came down at the last when holding a narrow lead and Thousand Stars was twice beaten a neck in 2011 and 2012.

It required one of Mullins' Champion Hurdle winners to break the deadlock, which Annie Power did with complete authority.

The rematch with My Tent Or Yours and Nichols Canyon was even more onesided than at Cheltenham as the mare defeated the festival second and third by 18 lengths and nine lengths.

Ruby Walsh said: "She's dynamite, isn't she? I had loads of horse under me. I was afraid to look back between the last two flights but I could hear the commentator saying Annie Power was going clear.

"She's a wonderful mare. She bounced out of Cheltenham and was as good today, if not better. She's a cracking mare and is not getting all the plaudits she deserves."

The race had never been a target for either Hurricane Fly or Faugheen, who both waited for Punchestown.

Mullins said: "I think it was important to win that race. I think we've been second in it five or six times. It was a race I've always wanted to win. It was an iconic race over the years won by some fantastic horses. That was my focus and I'm really delighted to have won it."

Annie Power's season only began in February. Her campaign is set to continue on to Punchestown and possibly to France beyond that.

Mullins said: "I was hoping she would improve from Cheltenham. We'll have a look at Punchestown and then whether we take the continental route. That might be on the cards.

"The first day I saw her I thought she was the nearest thing to Dawn Run I'd seen, a big mare with lots of gears who can carry weight. I'm just hoping with her size she's still improving, still getting strong. She can do anything.

"She can jump a fence if we want to do that or come back for the Champion Hurdle, I don't know what we'll do."

Mullins spoke enthusiastically at Cheltenham of following the path of Dawn Run, the only horse to win the Champion Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup, but it is not shared by Rich Ricci nor wife Susannah, who owns the mare.

"At the age of eight I can't see it happening," said Rich Ricci. "I think Willie was joking. He'd like her to be a Dawn Run, we all would, but we'll have to see. She's big enough to jump a fence.

"We will consider Punchestown and think about it later but my own view, and I know Susannah's view, is she is an absolute dead cert against going over fences. The mare is too valuable. I would think it highly unlikely."

As for racing against Faugheen, the Riccis' 2015 champion over hurdles at Cheltenham next season, he added: "It's a good problem to have. Annie Power has struggled to even get there the last two seasons for various reasons. We'll see how she comes out of the summer. There's no intention to retire her."

Nichols Canyon was reported to have suffered from post-race ataxia (the same 'wobble' associated with Grand National favourite Many Clouds), while the inability of My Tent Or Yours to close the gap on Annie Power, having had his first start in two years at Cheltenham, was attributed to the extra half-mile trip.

Trainer Nicky Henderson said: "Barry [Geraghty] pointed out that relative to Nichols Canyon he has come on, but you have to conclude that he doesn't stay two and a half miles – and we already knew he doesn't like that sort of ground.

"We've just had three seconds talking about whether or not he should go chasing next season. I did say to JP I know of a beginners' chase at Bangor in September but I'm not sure that's what he was thinking about!"

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She's dynamite, isn't she? I had loads of horse under me
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