Sparkling career marked by brilliance and a touch of drama
Nicholas Godfrey on the Champion Hurdle winner Annie Power
Foaled March 20, 2008
Pedigree Shirocco - Anno Luce
Owner Susannah Ricci
Trainer Willie Mullins
Main jockey Ruby Walsh
Breeder Eamon Cleary
Career record 15 wins from 17 starts (one place)
Most famous for Top-class hurdling mare who registered dominant Champion Hurdle triumph in 2016 at Cheltenham, where she had crashed out in mares' race 12 months earlier
The story of Annie Power is still being written as we await her customary belated return to action. But if the hugely talented chestnut mare was never again to set foot on a racecourse, she has already done enough to be considered one of the top female hurdlers of all time.
Annie Power's career has been marked not only by its brilliance but also a touch of drama. Her record suggests she is nearly impossible to beat when she stands up: in 16 completed starts, she has won 15, with last year's emphatic Champion Hurdle victory the obvious highlight. However, a memorable all-the-way victory was a far cry from her Cheltenham experience the previous season, when she came down at the last in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle. Bookmakers claimed the fall saved them a £60 million payout.
Named after her breeder Eamon Cleary's grandmother, Annie Power has always had an exalted reputation, right back to the days when she started out in bumpers in August 2012 ridden by the amateur Patrick Mullins for his father Willie. She won three in quick succession before progressing to land four mares' novice hurdles that same campaign, culminating in a Fairyhouse Grade 1 at the Irish Grand National meeting after which Willie Mullins could hardly contain his enthusiasm. "She could be anything," he told reporters at the track. "She's starting to show you guys now what I always knew she was."
By now Ruby Walsh had taken over riding duties from Mullins jnr, and Annie Power had been purchased by Rich and Susannah Ricci. Few horses have carried the famous pink and green silks with such prowess. She ran five times in 2013-14, confirming her supreme ability with easy victories in England – at Ascot, Cheltenham and Doncaster – that extended her unbeaten run to ten. But she came unstuck for the first time at Cheltenham, where she was favourite for the World Hurdle, going down in the closing stages to a stronger stayer in More Of That. Dropped back in trip, another Grade 1 success at Punchestown against her own sex was little more than a formality.
She was unseen in public until her fateful visit to the Cheltenham Festival in 2015, where she was odds-on to follow standing dish Quevega in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle. Mullins had been imperious on the first-day card, where Walsh partnered Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Faugheen to a Grade 1 treble, each of them backed as if defeat was out of the question before a notorious twist of fate. Annie Power cruised around the inner before going on two out with the race in safe-keeping – only to dive at the last and hit the turf with a thud that produced an audible gasp from the stands and sighs of relief from bookmakers facing massive liabilities on the four-timer.
Annie Power's complete superiority over her fellow mares was demonstrated with a ten-length victory at Punchestown, where she was to score on her reappearance last term in February after another lengthy absence. Next came Cheltenham, where she was parachuted into the Champion Hurdle when her stablemate Faugheen, the defending champion, got injured. This was quite some animal to have sitting on the bench: Annie Power was sent off 5-2 favourite and duly claimed the championship with an accomplished performance under Walsh, who took few prisoners by kicking her straight into the lead and staying there. She drew away approaching the second-last and stayed on strongly to win by four and a half lengths from My Tent Or Yours to become the first mare to win the Champion for two decades.
After destroying her Aintree Hurdle rivals, Annie Power was put away again and has yet to return before her Champion Hurdle defence. "She can do anything," says Mullins. "It was fantastic for her to win at Cheltenham at the third attempt. We had no real concerns about her dropping in distance and she showed the combination of speed and stamina we knew she possessed."
She's not on the list but I love her because . . .
I've had one or two nice mares but I've never had one as good as her. She is the best by a long way. If someone said what should you breed as a mare, it's her. She's beautiful – a really lovely looking horse. It's early days with her over fences and we don't know yet but she could be very good.