Annie Power became the first mare in 22 years to win the Champion Hurdle, taking the showpiece race on the opening day of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival today (Tuesday, 15 March).
She triumphed over the Nicky Henderson-trained My Tent Or Yours by 4 1/2 lengths, who finished a head in front of Annie Power’s stablemate Nichols Canyon.
“She deserved it, she’s a great mare,” said an emotional Ruby Walsh after the race.
The mare jumped fluently throughout and put in an impressive performance to take the race.
She became only the fourth mare to ever win the race, and the first since Flakey Dove in 1994.
Annie Power, trained by Willie Mullins, was supplemented for the race at a cost of £22,000, after last year’s winner — and her stablemate — Faugheen was ruled out due to injury. The gelding is expected to return in the autumn but was described by the trainer as being “in good order”.
Both horses are owned by Rich Ricci.
Annie Power, an eight-year-old by Shirocco, fell in the mares’ race at the Festival last year.
“I had worries fitness-wise before the race and that’s why I feel this performance was so good,” said Willie Mullins. “She came here off the back of a win in a slowly-run mares’ hurdle, only three or four weeks ago, and to then come here, jump out, make all and jump from hurdle to hurdle was huge.
“Her work was good last week, but I did wonder if it was good enough to win a championship.
“I was happy to see My Tent Or Yours up so close to her, because he hadn’t run for so long [703 days] and I felt that when push comes to shove she would have what it takes, and it would be some training performance for him to win after such a long break and to climb that hill. She did the necessary.”
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Annie Power, who was sent off 5-4 favourite, has now won 14 from 16 starts.
Walsh, Mullins and Ricci also celebrated success in the Arkle Trophy earlier in the day with Douvan, and Vrum Vrum Mag in the mares’ hurdle, notching up a memorable hat-trick.
Sadly three horses lost their lives on the opening day of the Festival. The Govaness and Rezorbi were seriously injured in falls and Pont Alexandre had to be put down after pulling up between fences.