Tony Elves looks back at the events of the last week with an eye to the Cheltenham Festival.
Faugheen had looked the banker of bankers when putting up a mesmerizing performance to score by 15 lengths from Arctic Fire in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in January, where Nichols Canyon (who had inflicted defeat on the Champ in the Morgiana Hurdle) was another 13 lengths in his wake, and we only hope that he will be back and ready to brandish his class on his rivals again next year.
An ironic scenario could well await punters this time around as it was Annie Power who came to the rescue of bookmakers at the Cheltenham Festival last year when taking that horrible tumble at the last in the Grade 1 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy, yet she could return as toast of the punters if justifying favouritism for the Champion Hurdle on the opening day.
Rich Ricci’s star mare had shown she was in rude health when beating Analifet by 10 lengths on her seasonal return last week and although the opposition was infinitely inferior to Willie Mullins’ charge, Annie Power still posted a performance of slick, accurate hurdling.
She has winning form over two miles and, to my mind, she would have to be considered a better Champion Hurdle proposition than stablemates Arctic Fire or Nichols Canyon. Such is her class she could well become the first mare to win the Champion Hurdle since Flakey Dove in 1994 and the numbness that was witnessed after her mishap 12 months ago could this time be reversed with one of the loudest roars to boom off the Cheltenham stands.
Min has already staked his claim as the leading pretender for the Skybet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle that opens the festival on Tuesday March 15 and those who have stacked their chips in his favour will have been delighted with how the action unfurled at Naas on Sunday.
Min had dished out a nine and a half-length defeat to Attribution in the Grade 2 Sky Bet Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle at Punchestown in January, where the previous Limerick Maiden Hurdle winner Ball D’Arc finished a length-and-a-quarter back in third.
Ball D’Arc had won a listed hurdle on his return to Punchestown at the end of January and there was further encouragement for backers of Min when that horse was always going best when beating Moon Over Germany by 2 lengths in a Grade 2 novices’ hurdle at Naas. There are plenty of live pretenders in the Supreme but it may be a case of waving the white flag from this quarter as the form book will always and remains the best source of winners.