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News broke this morning that last year’s Champion Hurdle winner, Annie Power, would not be returning to the Cheltenham festival in March to defend her crown. Willie Mullins’ superstar mare, who has only tasted defeat twice in a seventeen race career, sustained a new leg injury after working yesterday that could potentially rule the 9-year-old out for the whole season, not just the National Hunt’s flagship meeting.
The question now is whether we’ll get to see the five-time Grade 1 winning mare again as if she’s out for the season, that means she would be a 10-year-old for the next Cheltenham festival and Rich & Susannah Ricci could decide that it might be time for their mare to go to the paddocks. She has had injury problems before, as well, and the latest leg problem could end up being the final one in her excellent racing career.
As a result of Annie Power’s absence, Faugheen has understandably shortened up and the former two-time festival winner is now as low as 4/5 with the Non-Runner, No Bet concession. He’s 13/8 without NRNB but that price will be under serious threat should Willie Mullins’ other hurdling superstar make a winning return to action in this weekend’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopwardstown, for which he’s a 4/6 shot at present.
Yanworth has contracted in price as well, Alan King’s charge moving from 5/1 in places to 7/2-4/1 generally and former Mullins inmate Petit Mouchoir is another to have been shortened a couple of points, some bookies now going 5/1 with NRNB whilst Betfair are still willing to offer 7/1 without. They are the main players holding entries, so it’s hardly surprising to see the bookmakers react as they have.
Interestingly, there has been talk of Yorkhill possibly reverting back to hurdles and a few of the books have included him in the betting, with Paddy Power offering a standout 7/2 Non-Runner, No Bet for the current JLT Novices’ Chase market leader to switch codes and replace his injured stablemate. Whether his connections would be willing to reroute their charge remains to be seen but it would add some spice if it happened!
Altior, last year’s impressive Supreme Novices’ hurdle winner and the current Arkle Chase favourite, is also being quoted at 2/1 NRNB with Paddy Power and would be a huge player if Nicky Henderson decided to shelve their fencing plans for March and go back over the smaller obstacles. The temptations will be there, as with Yorkhill, but as long as Faugheen remains in place it is hard to see them turning up in the race.
The other main race of note is now the Mares Hurdle, for which Annie Power was a 7/4 favourite and that leaves the baton with another one of her stablemates, Vroum Vroum Mag. The 8-year-old heads the market at the exact same price as Annie did prior to this morning’s news and it would appear as if she is now most likely to defend her crown having scored at 4/6 in last year’s renewal.
Vroum Vroum Mag had previously looked to have four races to possibly choose from; the Champion Hurdle, the Mares’ Hurdle, the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Ryanair Chase if connections wanted to go back over fences (she’s 6 from 6 in that code), but it’s now odds-on that she will aim for a second win in the race that Annie was most likely to participate in; barring issues with Mullins’ other previous Champion Hurdler, Faugheen.
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