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The Inside Track on the World Hurdle

The Champion Hurdle’s loss is the World Hurdle’s gain as far as Annie Power is concerned, with the news that the unbeaten mare would tackle three miles for the first time prompting an immediate shake-up at the head of the betting, which saw four-time winner Big Buck’s replaced as favourite.

So was the market reaction correct? Yes, I would say it was. Firstly, let’s acknowledge what a great champion Big Buck’s has been, and indeed may still be, as third place in his comeback run in the Cleeve Hurdle has to be considered satisfactory, and he could well improve enough on that to win a fifth World Hurdle, but in the Willie Mullins-trained Annie Power he faces arguably his most exciting opponent yet in this race.

Winner of her first seven starts on home soil, she has travelled across the Irish Sea three times this season, in the process extending that unbeaten run to double figures, and although she will be racing over further than ever before on Cheltenham Thursday, the manner of her course victory over an extended 2 1/2 miles in the New Year’s Day mud gives every indication three miles will not be beyond her.

Indeed Ruby Walsh has spoken of how her trainer thinks she could be a future Gold Cup horse, high praise indeed, and enough to make her a confident selection for what could be a cracker, with Walsh and Annie Power taking on the rider’s old ally Big Buck’s and Sam Twiston-Davies.

As if that sub-plot wasn’t enough to whet the appetite, it’s far from being a two-horse race. Owner JP McManus will see his famous green and gold colours carried by At Fishers Cross and More Of That, and the former has to be respected after a return to form second place in the Cleeve, while Paul Nicholls could saddle three other contenders alongside Big Buck’s, with Zarkandar, Celestial Halo and Salubrious all in the mix.

Then there’s Rule The World, second in last year’s Neptune Novices’ Hurdle behind Champion Hurdle favourite The New One, his chain-smoking trainer Mouse Morris won’t be travelling across for the benefit of the Cotswold fresh air.

As I said, it should be a cracking renewal, and while Annie Power’s appearance in this race will not please those who wanted to see her take her chance in the Champion Hurdle, it should pay dividends for those of us backing girl power to prevail.

Selection – Annie Power