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2016 Cheltenham Festival news: Annie Power to make Punchestown return

David Metcalf | Updated February 16, 2016

Punchestown on agenda for Annie Power

Annie Power, currently the odds-on 8/11 favourite with Coral for the Mares’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday, March 15th, has been confirmed to make her seasonal reappearance in Wednesday’s punchestown.com Mares Hurdle at Punchestown.

The eight-year-old has been off the track since winning a Grade 1 event at that track’s Festival last May, making amends for her final-flight departure in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham when four lengths clear and having the race at her mercy.

HORSE RACING

Trainer Willie Mullins had planned to have the eight-year-old, who is a three-time Grade 1 winner, back in action earlier in the season but a knocked joint has delayed her eagerly awaited return.

Connections had been considering sending Annie Power straight to Cheltenham without a prep run, but Mullins has been pleased with her progress in recent weeks and will let her take part in Wednesday’s 2m 4f contest.

Prior to confirming his decision, Mullins said: “I think she will run at Punchestown. I’m happy enough with her, and she’s been working nicely.”

Annie Power also holds an entry in the World Hurdle on Thursday, March 17th, for which she is 3/1 second-favourite. At Punchestown, she faces just two rivals rated 32lb inferior and will wear a hood for the first time.

Festival not ruled out for L’ami Serge after shock defeat at Warwick

L’ami Serge lost his unbeaten record over fences when suffering a shock 11 lengthy defeat at the hands of Violet Dancer in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick, but trainer Nicky Henderson has stressed that his prospects on running at the Cheltenham Festival remain alive.

The Seven Barrows trainer reported the six-year-old to be “very perky” yesterday morning and was at a loss to explain his under-par display.

However, Henderson dismissed reports that L’Ami Serge would definitely miss the Racing Post Arkle Trophy on Tuesday, March 15th, for which he is now 1 14/1 chance having been 7/1 second-favourite before the Kingmaker.

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L’ami Serge also holds an engagement in the JLT Novices’ Chase on Thursday, March 17th, and is out to 16/1 (from 10s) for that 2m 4f contest.

Henderson said: “The only thing I would emphasise is that we are not ruling the Arkle out, we are not ruling anything out.

“We scoped him at the races and he was 100 per cent clean. You wouldn’t know he’d been anywhere and this horse all week has been in fantastic form. We’ve got to sort it out, we’ve got to see where we are.”

Ballyandy cut for Champion Bumper glory

Ballyandy is now 10/1 co-favourite with Coral for the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival on Wednesday, March 16th, after making it three wins from four starts with an impressive success in a listed contest at Newbury.

The winner of his first two starts for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, the five-year-old lost little in defeat when second at Ascot and returned to winning ways with an runaway nine-length success despite having to concede weight to all of his rivals.

Cheltenham day 3

After travelling strongly throughout, Ballyandy took up the running rounding the home town and powered clear in the style of a very exciting prospect.

Having been 25/1 for the Champion Bumper heading into the race, Ballyandy was cut to 12/1 but that was quickly snapped up and he now shares favouritism with the Irish trained pair Aspen Colorado and Augusta Kate.

Twitson-Davies said: “I think he’s the one they’ll have to beat at Cheltenham. He’s won the races that are usually the best trials and when he was beaten at Ascot last time, he was giving weight away and then the winning rider had a claim on top of that.

“I said at the start of the season that he thought he was our best bumper horse and he’s always looked very talented..”

Unowhatimeanharry lands four-timer to secure Festival ticket

Unowhatimeanharry booked his place at the Cheltenham Festival by completing a four-timer in the manner of an ultra-progressive type when landing the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle qualifier at Exeter.

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Trainer Harry Fry has the Pertemps Final and the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle under consideration for the eight-year-old, for which he he is now 12/1 (from 16s) and 14/1 (from 25s) respectively with Coral.

Unowhatimeanharry travelled strongly throughout and after taking up the running after the second last only had to be driven out to comfortably beat West Approach by 4 1/2 lengths, with the pair pulling 12 lengths clear of the third to give the form a solid look.

The winning handler said: “He won a Grade Two novice at Cheltenham in December but it wasn’t the strongest renewal of that race.

“On official ratings he’s still got quite a bit to find with the best novices in the Albert Bartlett.

“That’s why we came here to try to qualify and give ourselves another option.”

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Delve into our dedicated Horse Racing page for more previews and tips.

Coral’s top tip: Back Annie Power to win the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival 2016.