by CLAIRE SIBLOT THE market for the Champion Hurdle was shaken up recently when Willie Mullins announced that his star hurdler Faugheen will not defend his crown in the premier 2m hurdle race of the season at the Cheltenham Festival in March.
Mullins announced that Faugheen had suffered a suspensory ligament injury, which rules him out of action for at least two months.
Although the colours of Rich Ricci won’t be carried by Faugheen this year in the Champion Hurdle, they will most likely be worn by Ruby Walsh on Annie Power, who can take advantage of her stablemate’s absence to become the first mare to win the race since Flakey Dove in 1994.
Annie Power walking in a stream by PAOLO CAMERA
Annie Power has been lightly raced by Mullins over the last 18 months. Since her fall at the final obstacle in the 2015 Mares’ Hurdle, she has only seen a racecourse twice. She was an easy winner of the Mares Champion Hurdle at Punchestown in May, while more recently she scored at the same track in what was no more than a racecourse canter for the eight-year-old.
Mullins had numerous options for Annie Power this year. Not only was the Mares Hurdle under consideration but connections were also thinking about the World Hurdle over the longer trip. Faugheen’s injury made that decision a lot easier.
Once the news that Annie Power was going to be targeted for the Champion Hurdle was confirmed, the market for the race completely changed; she can now be backed at 2-1 in the Cheltenham Festival betting odds.
The Champion Hurdle by CARINE06
The biggest rival to Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle, according to the market, is her stablemate Arctic Fire. He finished second to Faugheen 12 months ago at the Festival where he was beaten by less than two lengths by the winner. He also chased home the champion at Leopardstown more recently in the Irish Champion Hurdle, although the margin on that occasion was much bigger, with the official distance being 15 lengths.
Arctic Fire has been very consistent since going over hurdles. He has only been out of the first three on four occasions in his 17 starts. Despite running so well, though, he has recorded only four wins, with two of those coming as a novice.
The only horse to have beaten Faugheen so far in his career is Nichols Canyon and he is also trained by Mullins. He is expected to take his chance in the Champion Hurdle this year.
The last time Nichols Canyon was seen on a racecourse, Faugheen made up for his shock defeat to the Andrea and Graham Wylie-owned runner by beating his stablemate by 28 lengths in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Nichols Canyon made his debut at the Festival in 2015 when he ran in the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle. He went off at 7-2 in the betting but could only finish third behind Windsor Park and Parlour Games.
It has been a good season for the six-year-old so far as he has won two of his three starts in the campaign.