Rich Ricci rates Annie Power his best chance of a winner at next week’s Cheltenham Festival after confirming the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle would “more than likely” be her target.
The leading owner is preparing to unleash a star-studded team at Prestbury Park next week, with Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen, the red-hot Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Douvan and Queen Mother Champion Chase contender and dual Festival winner Champagne Fever also major players in their respective races.
Annie Power lost her unbeaten record when runner-up behind More Of That in last season’s World Hurdle and with the reigning champion not turning up to defend his crown, Ricci admits another tilt at the staying crown is tempting. However, with his mare having been off the track since winning at Punchestown last May, he feels the sensible call is to let her take on her own sex on the opening day.
Ricci said: “I think she’s our best chance and I think she’s going to run in this race (Mares’ Hurdle), more than likely.
“We’ll keep her entered for the World Hurdle. People ask me am I tempted by the World Hurdle and yes I am, as it’s rare to have a chance in each of the championship races.
“We have a chance in the Champion Hurdle (Faugheen), we have a chance in the Champion Chase (Champagne Fever), we would have a chance with her (Annie Power) if she ran in the World Hurdle and we have a chance in the Gold Cup (Djakadam).
“Last year she was beaten by a better horse, but she was also very keen on the day and I just think that given the way she runs, and it will be her first run of the season, it makes sense if you want Cheltenham winners to run in this race.
“It might be the sporting thing to do, it might not be the sporting thing to do, I don’t know.”
The Ricci-owned Vroum Vroum Mag has made a big impression since joining Willie Mullins, winning each of her three starts over fences with the minimum of fuss.
At Wednesday’s confirmation stage she remained among the entries for Tuesday’s National Hunt Chase, but is unlikely to travel to Prestbury Park.
“I’ve left her in the race (National Hunt Chase), but I think it’s more than likely she runs at Limerick on Sunday week. There’s a mares’ race there, which is a good pot,” said Ricci.
“I think it’s a big ask to ask a relatively young mare to run four miles.”
Meanwhile, British Horseracing Authority officials have hailed the success of the rules on use of the whip.
Three years on from the introduction of the current rules, the BHA yesterday published figures on the impact following the change, showing whip offences to be down by almost 40% compared to 2011.
In addition, cases of interference were said to have decreased by nearly 33% compared to the same period.
Jamie Stier, BHA director of raceday operations and regulation for the BHA, said: “These figures highlight how effective the rules have been in meeting their objectives of reducing the number of whip offences, bringing about a culture change towards use of the whip amongst riders, promoting good horsemanship and ensuring we safeguard the welfare of horses and the public perception of the sport.”
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