National Hunt racing’s most colourful owner is travelling to Prestbury Park with hopes of winning and winning big – with Min in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’, Douvan in the Racing Post Arkle Chase, Vautour in the Timico Gold Cup all strongly fancied.
But it is where he aims Annie Power that remains the hottest topic in the traditional Cheltenham build-up, which always poses more questions than answers.
The popular chestnut mare is now favourite for the Stan James Champion Hurdle, following the news that reigning champion Faugheen, also owned by Ricci, is out for the season.
Enhanced odds: Get 14/1 on Douvan and Annie Power to win
But the owner has yet to pay the small change £20,000 supplement to be officially added to the opening day’s showpiece and hinted he may yet opt for another crack at the Mares’ Hurdle, a race which many of Annie Power’s fans regard as being rather beneath her.
The Willie Mullins trained mare has run 15 times and won 13 – and both her two defeats have both come at the Festival. She placed second in 2014 World Hurdle and fell when streaking away with last year’s Mares’ Hurdle, saving bookmakers millions.
“It’s not like me to be evasive and I really want to be candid but I just don’t know and it’s a decision we are really struggling with,” he told a Cheltenham preview event organised by bookmaker BetBright.
“We’re muddled, confused and quite emotional about it all. We really want to win a race at Cheltenham with this horse, whether that’s the Champion Hurdle or Mares’ Hurdle. I really don’t how we’d feel if we didn’t win the Champion when we watched the Mares’ Hurdle later that day.
“On ratings she’s earned her right to be favourite for the Champion Hurdle. She’s working really well and is gleaming in her coat. If she runs then she should win.”
Meanwhile, jockey Sam Twiston-Davies is urging fans not to forget the claims of The New One, trained by father Nigel.
Enhanced odds: Get 10/1 on Annie Power to win Champions Hurdle
He finished seven lengths runner-up behind Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton but followed it a month later with a victory in the Grade 2 Champion Hurdle Trial.
“He ran a big race in the Champion Hurdle two years ago and we felt he was unlucky that day,” said Twiston-Davies.
“He’s a better horse now and when he turns up at Cheltenham he will be in the best condition he could possibly be in. I think we’re going to have a real crack at it.”
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