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Annie Power leaps up Champion Hurdle ladder with Coral Hurdle win

Willie Mullins already has Hurricane Fly for the Champion Hurdle however the County Carlow trainer has added a new string to his bow.

Mullins stated at the start of the season that he would be launching more forays across the Irish Sea due to having too many horses for the big races in Ireland.

Well he looks to have another very serious hurdler on his hands in the form of Annie Power who is now a 10/1 chance for the Champion Hurdle after her win in the Coral Hurdle at Ascot.

Bet on Annie Power to win the Champion Hurdle at 10/1

The race was no penalty kick for the daughter of Shirocco as she had to take on the Paul Nicholls-trained Zarkandar who was also making his seasonal reappearance.

Annie Power certainly impressed her jockey Ruby Walsh in the Ascot contest, as he said afterwards: “…I loved the way she raced over the last two [hurdles], had a cut and battled and ended up winning four of five lengths.”

Mullins has always thought a lot of his mare – who has now won all eight of her starts – and he suggested that running her over here was also a statement of intent for later in the season and, in particular, the Cheltenham Festival.

At first glance one might think that the Mares’ Hurdle would be the best fit for Annie Power, however her stablemate Quevega has won that race for the last five years.

The vibes are that she will be back as good as ever for a chance to make history; no horse has ever won six races at the Cheltenham Festival.

Bet on Zarkandar to win Champion Hurdle at 20/1

The Champion Hurdle has a history of being won by horses who stay well so the fact that Annie Power has won over 2m 4f is not against her and although she might have something to prove if the ground came up quick in March, the 10/1 is a fair reflection of her chance.

However it might be worth noting that her hurdling in the middle stage of the race wasn’t particularly fluent.

That may be down to a fairly steady pace, but the Champion Hurdle is not always run at as true a tempo as it perhaps used to be, so she will need to brush up on her hurdling over the course of the season.

Zarkandar is a 20/1 chance for the Champion Hurdle and connections will have been pleased with his seasonal return.

Paul Nicholls’ charge was wearing blinkers when he won at Aintree last season but he wore no headgear at Ascot and just appeared to lack a bit of fitness in the closing stages when he was being challenged – and passed – by Annie Power.

The son of Azamour was giving plenty of weight away to the winner and lost little caste in defeat.

He’s a very fluent hurdler which is crucial to running well at Cheltenham and he ran a very good race when fourth behind Hurricane Fly last season.

Bet on My Tent Or Yours to win Champion Hurdle at 5/1

He was fifth in 2012, beaten about six lengths, and there is a case to say that he is just short of the very top level over hurdles.

But he is one out of one with blinkers on and it will be interesting to see where he runs next; connections suggested he won’t step up in trip.

Elsewhere on Saturday, Melodic Rendezvous’ form received a knock when Far West was soundly beaten at Haydock.

Jeremy Scott’s stable star had beaten Far West in the Elite Hurdle earlier this month but the latter was very disappointing on Saturday.

Melodic Rendezvous is 16/1 for the Champion Hurdle at present and looks set to head for the Fighting Fifth next, whilst another horse set to be out at the weekend is My Tent Or Yours.

Jonjo O’Neill’s ace was second in last season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and is a 5/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle in March.

He tops the entries at Newcastle on Saturday and is widely expected – according to the betting at least – to reinforce his Cheltenham claims with a win.