Having finished runner-up to More Of That in the 2014 World Hurdle over three miles before suffering a well-publicised and heartbreaking final flight exit with the two-and-a-half-mile Mares’ Hurdle at her mercy 12 months ago, the brilliant mare now gets a shot at the two-mile hurdling crown.
With last year’s brilliant winner Faugheen suffering a season-ending injury a month ago, Annie Power was called up as the apparent super-sub and after being supplemented at a cost of £20,000 (€25,700), she bids to become the first mare since Flakey Dove in 1994 to claim Champion Hurdle glory.
Mullins said: “She’s taken on geldings before and I don’t think coming back to two miles will be any problem.
“It’s just been that the races that have suited her have been over two and a half miles and then we tried her in the World Hurdle and it took a fair one to beat her on the day, I think.
“It might actually be easier for her to race over two miles with the pace they’ll be going. It will be easier to ride her, anyway.”
Annie Power is one of three runners for Ireland’s champion trainer as he bids to win the prestigious event for a fourth time.
Nichols Canyon inflicted a shock defeat on Faugheen in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November and subsequently won the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown, but lines up at Prestbury Park with something to prove having finished a weary third behind his illustrious stable companion in January’s Irish Champion Hurdle.
“This season he has had to step up big time, taking on the older horses and first time out he sprung quite a surprise when beating Faugheen,” said Mullins.
“For his next race we sent him to Leopardstown for the Ryanair Hurdle, which he won, but it was a real battle for him. He had to dig as deep as he probably ever has on the heavy ground and in retrospect it took more out of him than we thought.
“It wasn’t that he was beaten (in the Irish Champion Hurdle), because Faugheen was back to his best, but he never put up a fight, which is not like him.
“I have been happy with him since then and we know better ground will suit him from his big runs last season, so if he can return to his best form he has to be a major player.”
Mullins also saddles Sempre Medici, but admits he needs to up his game.
He said: “He has got to improve about 10lbs to get involved. He is not rated in the 160s yet but I have got nothing else to run him in, unless he goes in a handicap off top weight and I don’t want to be doing that.”
Nicky Henderson has saddled a joint-record five previous winners of the Champion Hurdle and has five runners in this year’s renewal.
The quintet is headed by My Tent Or Yours, who was beaten just a neck by fellow JP McManus-owned runner Jezki in 2014, but has not been seen in competitive action since being beaten in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr the following month.
Henderson said: “We thought of running My Tent Or Yours in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton, but the ground would have been detrimental.
“His racecourse gallops at Kempton were ideal and went very well.”
The master of Seven Barrows also saddles last year’s Triumph Hurdle one-two-three in Peace And Co, Top Notch and Hargam, as well as outsider Sign Of A Victory.
Peace And Co has been bitterly disappointing in two starts this season, but has undergone a minor respiratory procedure since his latest flop at Sandown.
“Peace And Co, who has had a cauterised palate operation, is over that and has been cantering away,” said the trainer.
“It is not the ideal preparation. He definitely made a noise at Sandown, which we had not experienced before.
“Forget his first run of the season at Cheltenham — he ran like a headless chicken for a mile — and so Sandown was like his first run in a year.
“His back was sore — we have been trying to iron out a lot of things in one go.
“Top Notch and Hargam look in good shape and have done lots of work. Top Notch was great at Kelso, the perfect preparation and everything is cool with him.
“Peace And Co and My Tent Or Yours are the best two horses of mine in the Champion Hurdle, while Hargam and Top Notch are both very good and not just there to make up numbers.”
The New One was a luckless third two years ago and fifth in last year’s renewal and trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies is in bullish mood ahead of his stable star’s return to Prestbury Park.
He said: “He is the best he has been for two seasons and I think he is better than when he won the Neptune.
“With more luck in running he would have won the race two years ago. Hopefully this is his year.
“He had a bad foot problem and that caused the back problem last year when everything was wrong with him. The farrier has done a brilliant job and he has had specially manufactured shoes which have helped him.”
The Henry de Bromhead-trained Identity Thief narrowly denied Top Notch in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November before finding Nichols Canyon too strong at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Big-race jockey Bryan Cooper said: “He’s been very good and will probably be a bit better on better ground.
“The break he’s had from Christmas to Cheltenham will probably play into his hands a bit because he had a hard race at Christmas and it will have took him a while to get over that.
“Henry seems very happy with him, it’s a wide-open race and I don’t think I’d swap him for anything else.”
Relkeel Hurdle winner Camping Ground comes back in trip after disappointing behind Thistlecrack in the Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham in January.
“Faugheen and Arctic Fire were the top two horses in the race and, without them, it is definitely more winnable,” said trainer Robert Walford.
With Old Guard having been ruled out by Paul Nicholls since the declaration stage, a 12-strong field is completed by the supplemented National Spirit Hurdle winner Lil Rockerfeller, trained by Neil King.