Just how good was Annie Power? One of the many ways of assessing her brilliance is to consider the reputation of More Of That.
When he lined up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup two months ago, he was the each-way fancy of many.
This despite the fact he had fallen on his previous start in the Irish Gold Cup, finished sixth of 13 in the Lexus Chase, third of five in the Peterborough Chase and was pulled up on his first start of the season, when sent off favourite in the BetVictor Gold Cup.
Hardly the profile of Gold Cup winner, is it?
In the event, More Of That had to settle for sixth behind Sizing John.
Last month, More Of That was again well backed when he lined up in the Aintree Grand National but he began to toil four fences out and was pulled up approaching the last.
So, why the continued confidence in a horse who has shown so little spark for so long? The answer is simple: He once beat Annie Power.
In fact, following confirmation yesterday that the wondermare, in foal to 2012 Epsom Derby hero Camelot, has run her last race, More Of That has the unique distinction of being the only horse to have taken her scalp when she stood up.
That’s some calling card.
For good measure, he was giving her 7lbs when he got the better of her after a titanic struggle up the Cheltenham hill in the 2014 Stayers’ Hurdle.
That reverse was one of just two suffered by Annie Power in her 17-race career. The second, 12 months later, was one of the most dramatic moments in Cheltenham Festival history.
Day one of the 2015 Festival had already been eventful for trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh when Annie Power lined up for the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle.
Douvan had won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Un De Sceaux had landed the Arkle trophy while Faugheen had cruised to victory in the Champion Hurdle.
Now it was Annie’s turn. And the consequences of her winning would be stark for the bookmaking industry. Approaching the last, she looked to have the race at her mercy but she clipped the top of the final flight and crashed out.
Her premature departure saved bookmakers around £50m (€58m) in accumulator liabilities and meant a horse billed as ‘the best mare since Dawn Run’ was now zero from two at the mecca of jumps racing.
Happily, when she got the chance to redeem herself 12 months later, she seized it.
Qualitywise, the 2016 Champion Hurdle might not have been the greatest renewal in history but it was one of the most memorable.
As had been so often the case, Annie Power’s season had a belated start as she returned to the fray on the same February day that it was announced that reigning Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen would not be able to defend his title due to injury.
As a consequence, Annie Power was now rerouted to the day one feature and the super-sub delivered in brilliant style, making just about all to beat My Tent Or Yours by four and a half lengths.
Given her preparation, it was an astonishing display, a performance that illustrated that she was every bit as good as her supporters had long believed her to be.
Ruby Walsh has won a record 56 races at the Cheltenham Festival but writing in these pages ahead of this year’s extravaganza, he admitted being part of Annie Power’s redemptive story was special.
“I had to go quick enough that the speed horses wouldn’t do her for toe, and yet not so fast that I emptied her. It was a ride I enjoyed, and a victory, if I’m being brutally honest, I watch once a week.”
We didn’t know then that Annie Power would only grace the racetrack one more time.
But what a way to exit the stage. If the emotion surrounding her Champion Hurdle success made it her most memorable success, it’s arguable that her finest performance came in the Aintree Hurdle a month later.
Again it was My Tent Or Yours who got closest to her but this time the gap at the line was a whopping a 18 lengths with stablemate Nichols Canyon, a subsequent Stayers’ Hurdle winner, a further nine lengths back in third. It was a massacre, a stunning combination of raw power and class.
It’s sad that she didn’t get to defend those crowns but it’s worth remembering that were it not for Faugheen’s injury, we might never have found out just how good Annie Power was. Faugheens’ absence provided a window of opportunity, one seized to the full by a very special horse.
She had a dazzling array of gifts. She coasted through her races, she (mostly) jumped beautifully and, as she showed in that defeat to More Of That, she could fight.
However, the most compelling, endearing thing about Annie Power was the glorious way she bounced back to deliver at the third time of asking at Cheltenham.
“Sport offers lots of things and redemption is one of the best,” her owner Rich Ricci once said of his superstar mare.
Rarely were truer words spoken.
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