Annie Power takes over as Champion Hurdle favourite as Willie Mullins keeps options open

Annie Power is the new favourite for the Stan James Champion Hurdle following a faultless return to action at Punchestown on what proved a dramatic afternoon with Cheltenham in mind.

The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old, who suffered a final-flight fall when having last year's OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham at her mercy, was making her first appearance since bouncing back from that mishap at the Punchestown Festival last May.

All the talk ahead of her comeback focussed on whether she would bid for redemption against her own sex at Prestbury Park next month, or have a second crack at the World Hurdle, a race in which she chased home More Of That in 2014.

Annie Power takes over as Champion Hurdle favourite as Willie Mullins keeps options open

However, in an extraordinary turn of events, news broke just moments before Annie Power's long-awaited comeback that stable companion and reigning Champion Hurdler Faugheen had suffered an injury that would rule him out of the Festival.

And there now appears every chance that, in his absence, the brilliant mare will be supplemented for the two-mile championship at a cost of £20,000 on March 9.

Mullins said: "I will have a chat with the owner (Rich Ricci) and see how she comes out of the race, and see how much more work we can get into her. It was good to get that run and we have a month to Cheltenham.

"I don't know which race she will go for, but we will keep all options open. We have a lot of training to do in the next four weeks.

"That was really like a schooling session, but it was what she needed rather than a race at the moment. We can step up her work now.

"I wouldn't rule out the Champion Hurdle. It's not often I miss an entry at Cheltenham, but we can get her supplemented.

"That could happen as the balls are bouncing a bit different today. We'll see how she progresses.

"I always thought she was a two-and-a-half-mile mare - that's the distance that she could really shine - but she has enough speed to go back to two miles."

Annie Power was the 1-20 favourite to dispatch of a pair of vastly inferior rivals on ratings in the Mares Hurdle, and Ruby Walsh kept things simple, sending her straight to the lead and not seeing another rival for the duration of the two-and-a-half-mile journey.

Sporting a hood for the first time in public, she passed the post six and a half lengths clear of Legacy Gold, who beat Melbourne Lady to the runner-up spot on her first start for nearly two years.

"She was keen, but they tend to be when they are on their own," said the champion trainer.

"She was fine (with the hood) but was always going to be fresh on her first run back. I don't know if she will wear a hood the next time. It depends on where she will run."

Stan James, the only firm not offering the 'non-runner no bet' concession on the Champion Hurdle, make Annie Power the 9-4 favourite for the two-mile showpiece, ahead of stable companion Arctic Fire, second to Faugheen last year, at 3-1.

RaceBets were forced to cut Annie Power to 5-2 for the Champion after an initial 4-1 was swiftly taken.

The news of the potential shuffling of the Mullins pack has had major repercussions on other Festival markets, with Vroum Vroum Mag now a best-priced 7-4 favourite for the Mares' Hurdle, with Annie Power available to back at 3-1.

Colin Tizzard's Thistlecrack has hardened as favourite for the World Hurdle, a race for which Annie Power can now be backed at 4-1 with Betfred.

Vroum Vroum Mag is 7-1 for the three-mile race with Paddy Power to leave ante-post punters with a fascinating puzzle to solve until plans are finalised.

Annie Power takes over as Champion Hurdle favourite as Willie Mullins keeps options open

Like the rest of the Faugheen camp, Walsh was left reeling by his injury and still coming to terms with the fact he must decide on what else to ride in the Champion Hurdle.

But he does not expect an immediate decision on which race Annie Power will contest - and is himself in no rush on plans, either.

Walsh wrote in his Paddy Power blog: "Willie Mullins won't be committing horses to anything until he has too. And why should he? The best-laid plans came come to nothing in this game in the blink of an eye. Faugheen and Killultagh Vic are proof of that.

"The inevitable question will now switch to who I'll ride in the Champion Hurdle. A bit like my like my Gold Cup mount, I won't be committing to that until I have to.

"Annie Power could be supplemented for the Champion Hurdle but at this stage the handicapper has Arctic Fire as the most likely winner now that Faugheen is out. And he was second in the race last year.

"But Nichols Canyon did beat Faugheen at Punchestown earlier in the season and was probably feeling the effects of his win against Identity Thief at Christmas when he was under par last time in the Irish Champion Hurdle - but nobody would have beaten Faugheen that day."

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