It’s official! Annie Power will line up against Big Buck’s in World Hurdle
The Cheltenham festival received a much-needed shot in the arm on Sunday with the news that Annie Power will clash with Big Buck’s in the World Hurdle. The withdrawals of Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card were a blow for race fans last week but they now have a mouth-watering duel to look forward to.
The debate over which race Willie Mullins should select for the unbeaten Annie Power has gone on for several weeks and he has elected to step her up to three miles. The mare also holds entries in the Champion Hurdle and the Mares’ Hurdle and had been prominent in the betting for both events.
She has travelled over to Britain three times this winter, beating Zarkandar at Ascot and Cheltenham before easing to a fifteen length win at Doncaster in January. She certainly wasn’t stopping at the end of the Cheltenham race over two miles and five furlongs but there have been concerns about her ability to stay a truly run three-miles.
The race sets up an intriguing tactical battle with Ruby Walsh riding Annie Power against his old associate, a four-time winner of the event. Walsh was only beaten once in 19 races when partnering Big Buck’s, and that came in a novice chase back in 2007.
Sam Twiston-Davies was thrust into the spotlight for the Cleeve Hurdle and came in for criticism for his tactics on the eleven-year-old. Big Buck’s was returning after more than a year off the track and was just run out of it in the closing stages by 66-1 shot Knockara Beau and At Fishers Cross.
Trainer Paul Nicholls defended his jockey and blamed a combination of testing ground and fitness for the horse suffering his first defeat in 19 races over hurdles. The Ditcheat trainer also saddles former Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkandar who, like Annie Power, will be stepping up to three miles for the first time.
Annie Power has been cut to 15-8 favourite with Big Buck’s out to 9-4 from 2-1. At Fishers Cross, the mount of Tony McCoy, is next best at 5-1.