Will Annie Power prove an able replacement for Faugheen? Yes, says Tommy Lyons.
No sooner had the announcement come of Faugheen’s absence than Annie Power was drafted in to replace her stable companion and reigning champ as favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
However, as the dust settled over the passing days her strength at the top of the market wavered – until yesterday’s bombshell that another stable companion, last year’s runner-up, Arctic Fire, will also miss the race.
Were she not there to step unto the breach, Nichols Canyon would be the sole representative for Mullins, and that would be somewhat fragile for a stable with the strength which Closutton currently enjoys.
Fair to point out that Nichols Canyon, who remains on track at this point, boasts a tremendous record, with seven wins (six at the highest level) from 10 races over hurdles.
However, all of that has earned him a mark of just 160, which falls short of Champion Hurdle-winning standard, and that might be him in a nutshell: Teak-tough, high-class, but unspectacular. He must also bounce back from a sub-par run in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
On the day at Leopardstown when Douvan won the Irish Arkle and Faugheen the Irish Champion, Mullins suggested he could have targeted the former at the Champion Hurdle.
That wasn’t a statement of intent, rather an expression of the trainer’s regard for the horse and the potential he had over the smaller obstacles, had he not been sent chasing following his novice hurdling season.
He may always have been a chaser in the making and perhaps would be jumping fences this season regardless, but it seems reasonable to assume a part of the influence to curtail his time over timber was the depth of talent among Mullins’s two-mile hurdlers, headed, of course, by the champion himself.
A situation in which it was necessary to keep Douvan over hurdles was difficult to envisage but, in a week which has served a cold, hard reminder how much can change and how quickly, what a string to the bow he would be!
However, that bird has flown and, with the ante-post market seeking a new leader, Annie Power was the obvious choice, despite her shortage of form over the trip.
Her sole defeat to date, in completed starts, came when the three-mile trip of the World Hurdle appeared to stretch her stamina.
Winner of one Grade 2 over two miles and two Grade 1s over two-and-a-quarter miles, she has never looked short of speed and even prior to her run in the World Hurdle of 2014, there were calls for her to take her chance in the Champion Hurdle.
This season may not have gone to plan, and trust is required that last week’s satisfactory comeback will be enough to put her right for a tilt at any festival target, but she remains unexposed and possesses the touch of brilliance many of her rivals lack.
Whether or not she can justify the favourite’s tag is another matter, but she is the best of the Mullins charge, unless of course, the Closutton team turns the festival on its head by deciding to switch Douvan or Vautour’s focus.
Now, wouldn’t that bring another dimension altogether to the race?
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