Annie Powers to course record as Mullines emulates his father - plus Thursday Cheltenham preview
Willie Mullins emulated his father by training a mare to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle as Annie Power blew her rivals away in style at Cheltenham, setting a course record.
Dawn Run, trained by Paddy Mullins, won the race back in 1984 and famously went on the win the Gold Cup two years later.
That feat means Dawn Run is rightly regarded as the best National Hunt mare of all time - but Annie Power is quickly approaching that sort of status herself, although the salient point of the race was that she was only rerouted to the championship event after her stablemate, last year’s winner Faugheen, was ruled out through injury.
Throw in the fact that the last time she took on the boys, in the World Hurdle two years ago, she was defeated by More Of That and her season had been interrupted by setbacks, there were some doubters.
Because of all that there were plenty willing to take her on, despite being in receipt of a 7lb mares’ allowance in what was widely regarded as a sub-standard renewal, but she was still sent off the 5-2 favourite.
Ruby Walsh was determined to make it a strong test and after The New One led to the first hurdle where he jumped right, Annie Power took over and was never headed.
My Tent Or Yours put in a strong bid in his first race for 703 days, running gallantly to take the runner-up spot, four and a half lengths behind the winner.
Nichols Canyon was a head back in third to give Mullins a one-three.
* Thistlecrack looks absolutely bombproof in the Ryanair World Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Thursday.
Colin Tizzard’s eight-year-old progressed at a rate of knots last season and this campaign he has stamped himself as the pre-eminent staying hurdler bar none.
The fact he is not odds-on everywhere is probably down to the fact he is not trained by a powerhouse stable like Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson - yet come the end of the week Tizzard could be celebrating wins in two of the four championship events with Cue Card still to come.
He was getting the better of Alpha Des Obeaux when that one fell at Aintree in the Sefton last April, so it is hard to see him turning the tables.
He was then unlucky behind Killultagh Vic at the Punchestown Festival. Those two runs also answer the question about ability to handle quicker ground.
This season has been a procession and at Newbury, Ascot and Cheltenham, he has simply looked in a different league to anything the staying hurdling division can offer and it is probably Ireland’s weakest discipline, too.
It would be no surprise were he to run in the Gold Cup next year, given he is already eight, and he appears cut from the Dermot Weld cloth in being a stayer with speed.
The Ryanair Chase is much more of a cloudy picture but it may be worth hoping the step up in trip can help Vibrato Valtat return to winning ways.
On his only outing over further than two miles this season in the Haldon Gold Cup he looked much more at home, cruising to victory.
Since then he has been banging his head against the best two-milers and while he has not been disgraced behind Sire De Grugy, Sprinter Sacre and Un De Sceaux et al, he would not win a Queen Mother.
He will be within his comfort zone at this trip and may have just sneaked under the radar.
Zabana was all the rage for the JLT Novices’ Chase after making a winning chasing debut at Leopardstown over Christmas, but he failed to handle the really testing ground on his only other run since in the Flogas Novice Chase.
He meets the winner of that race, Outlander, but back on a decent surface he may have more pace than the Willie Mullins-trained runner.
* Thursday selections -
Cheltenham: 1.30 Zabana, 2.10 Our Kaempfer, 2.50 Vibrato Valtat, 3.30 THISTLECRACK (NAP), 4.10 Stilletto, 4.50 Limini, 5.30 Silvergrove.
Hexham: 1.55 This Thyne Jude, 2.35 Sainte Ladylime, 3.15 Cheat The Cheater, 3.55 Moscow Presents, 4.35 Snuker, 5.10 Suzy’s Music, 5.40 The Pierre Lark.
Towcester: 1.15 Superfection, 1.45 Royalraise, 2.25 Edward Elgar, 3.05 Midnight Jade, 3.45 Oscar Jane, 4.25 Vasco Du Mee, 5.00 Talk Of The South.
Chelsmford: 5.50 Ellaal, 6.20 Dutch Garden, 6.50 Crosse Fire, 7.20 Freud, 7.50 Alcanar, 8.20 Heartsong, 8.50 Kuanyao.
Double: Thistlecrack and Limini.