Super Power ready to take on the World in a hood
The brilliant mare Annie Power makes her seasonal reappearance at Punchestown today ahead of a possible second tilt at the World Hurdle.
In 13 completed starts, Willie Mullins's classy daughter of Shirocco has been beaten just once, when denied by More Of That in a thrilling edition of the Ladbrokes-sponsored three-miler at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival.
Annie Power's tendency to race keenly played a part in her downfall that day. With that in mind, today's outing should do her the power of good, and Mullins's willingness to run her so close to the Festival is a plus. The vibes have been positive about his eight-year-old for some time. If there was any feeling that Annie Power wasn't ready, she wouldn't be running, as the champion trainer is well versed on priming the female of the equine species at home for the March gala.
As such, there must now be a live chance that she will contest the World Hurdle rather than the mares' race at Cheltenham. The application of a first-time hood today also suggests that there is a renewed emphasis on helping Ruby Walsh to switch off the powerful chestnut.
Truth be told, even in the prevailing deep ground, Annie Power could race as free as the wind here and it wouldn't matter. She is rated more than two-stone clear of her two rivals, and Legacy Gold, the closest to her on official figures, hasn't run for two years.
As the odds of 1/20 that Paddy Power were offering about her last night indicate, then, it is a race only in the loosest sense of the word.
Still, punters holding ante-post dockets for the World Hurdle with Annie Power's name on them will welcome the sight of her on a racecourse. The most important thing is that she avoids the sort of calamity that she famously suffered on her first outing of the season at Prestbury Park last year. Whatever about the connections of just two horses being willing to risk ruining their respective handicap marks by getting close to Annie Power for a share of €20,000 worth of spoils, the bumper at the other end of the card has also attracted a pithy three runners.
Liz Doyle's Leopardstown runner-up Without Limites is the only one of the three that has run, so it isn't as though there is a Mullins hotpot scaring everyone off.
Unfortunately, it is simply an illustration of the dwindling levels of participation in the jumps game, as is a hunter chase at Fairyhouse on Saturday that has attracted a scarcely believable four entries.
Today's nap vote falls to Robin Thyme, which Walsh rides for Gordon Elliott in the second maiden hurdle.
TJ Nagle's Gran Cavallo is a potential improver to note, but Robin Thyme is a little more battle-hardened, and his recent second to Balko Des Flos is the pick of the form on offer.
Davy Russell might take the first maiden on Tony Martin's Lip Service, while the mares' equivalent looks a fine opportunity for Midnight Theatre. Gavin Cromwell's charge ran a lovely race to be fifth on her Navan hurdling bow.