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Mullins to make 'late' call on Annie target


Willie Mullins talks with jockey Paul Townend

Willie Mullins talks with jockey Paul Townend

Willie Mullins talks with jockey Paul Townend

Willie Mullins has given no further clues as to which race Annie Power will contest at Cheltenham.

With a possible team of 40 at next month's Festival, the record-breaking trainer has favourites and numerous options in many races.

Annie Power, the sturdy and unbeaten chestnut, is arguably causing most interest of all as she still has the options of the Champion Hurdle, World Hurdle and Mares' Hurdle.

But Mullins already has Hurricane Fly bidding for a third Champion Hurdle and Quevega for an incredible sixth mares' prize, while the step up in trip to three miles against Big Buck's in the World Hurdle would not exactly be the easy option. "It'll be very late," said Mullins at his Co Carlow stable. "It will depend on other horses, anything could happen."

Mullins was asked how he would weigh up his decision, and said: "Has she ever met a real Champion Hurdle horse? Every time she has gone over a longer trip it has been good and she has travelled well to England three times.

"I have a feeling it will all fall into place, but it depends on what horses are running in which race.

"She could have five horses that will be hard to beat in the Champion Hurdle, one or two hard to beat in the stayers' and then another very good horse to beat in the mares' hurdle."

Just as exciting, and similarly unbeaten, is Un De Sceaux, but Mullins again suggested he may not line up in the Champion Hurdle.

"He's well," said the trainer. "As a young, talented horse, I don't want to be abusing him. He has done everything I've asked, but do I throw him in the Champion Hurdle on what he has done? To me, Un De Sceaux is the future."

Mullins is placing victories for Hurricane Fly and Quevega the highest on his Festival wishlist.

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Asked to summarise his expectations at a meeting which provided five victories in 2013, he said: "I hope Quevega wins, I hope Hurricane Fly wins, they'd be huge for us on the Tuesday.

"After that, I hope we can get another winner. I know that if you put up four bankers, three of them will get beat."

Mullins played down a minor hiccup in Quevega's preparation ahead of a sixth consecutive OLBG Mares' Hurdle.

"I wasn't happy with the way she was moving and I got the vets in, but she's fine now," he said. "She had a few easy days because she was ahead of schedule."

Hurricane Fly was out on the gallops under Paul Townend. With 19 Grade Ones in the bag, including his recent fourth Irish Champion Hurdle success, the gelding is likely to start favourite.

"Two seasons ago he wasn't right, last season he was getting better, but last summer was the best summer we've ever had," Mullins said. "He's stronger, but still retains his fight and aggression."

The champion trainer is leaning towards letting Champagne Fever chase his Cheltenham Festival hat-trick in the Racing Post Arkle Trophy.

Winner of the Champion Bumper in 2012 before claiming the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last March, the seven-year-old has been ante-post favourite for the two-mile novice chasing event since the start of the season.

Having made a winning debut over fences at Punchestown, he ran below par when only third at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival. The grey is now heading straight back to Prestbury Park.

The Closutton maestro also holds a strong hand in the novice hurdle division, with ante-post favourite Vautour heading three major challengers in the Festival curtain-raising Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Faugheen looks set for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, with last year's Champion Bumper winner Briar Hill primed to play a starring role in the three-mile Albert Bartlett.

"At the moment I'm looking at the Neptune for Faugheen and I'd imagine Briar Hill has the profile for the Albert Bartlett," he said. "Sure Reef looks like he'll stay all day and would either go for the Neptune or the longer race."

Arvika Ligeonniere has yet to show his brilliant best when going left-handed, but is bound for the Champion Chase.

"We'll be doing one or two things differently with him, simple enough things," said the champion trainer.

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