Annie Power made amends for her fall at the final flight in last year's OLBG Mares' Hurdle when running away with the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon, giving owner Susannah Ricci, trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh a 3.38/1 double on the card.
The 5/2 favourite made most of the running and saw off her rivals one by one with a commanding performance, powering up the hill to record a four and a half length victory from 10/1 shot My Tent Or Yours.
Annie Power clocked a time of 3 minutes 45.10 seconds which is a course record for the two mile trip. The previous record stood at 3 minutes 45.25 which was recorded by Jezki in the Stan James Champion Hurdle in 2014. She becomes the fourth mare ever to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle and the first since Flakey Dove, ridden by Mark Dwyer, in 1994.
Rich Ricci, husband of the winning owner, was overcome by emotion after the race and fought back the tears as he tried to convey just how much this victory meant to him. The eight-year-old was giving the Riccis their 10th success at The Festival.
"It's just spectacular," said Ricci. "No horse deserves to win here - but she does really! It's brilliant! Sport offers such a chance for redemption and it's fantastic to see. I'm happy for the horse and just happy for everyone."
Mullins was also delighted after the race as it not only gave him his 43rd Festival winner, but he also emulated his father Paddy in training a mare to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle. Dawn Run won the race back in 1984 for Mullins senior.
"I've just seen Rich in tears and that's good - that's what it's all about," said Mullins. "It's great he's able to enjoy it like that with all the horses he has. I thought she was fantastic. It's a super performance from the mare to come back like that with only one run under her belt. She bossed the race but that was Ruby's plan. He told me a fortnight ago what he was going to do and it's worked out like that.
"We weren't sure if there was pace coming from anywhere else but after the second hurdle I was happy. I was just worried would she run up to expectations but she has certainly exceeded my expectations. It's good that she's landed one for herself and for Rich as well. It was great to get on the board with Douvan but this is something special. I thought she might be able to win but I didn't think she'd be able to do it like that. It was a huge performance."
WALSH HAS THE POWER
Ruby Walsh captured his fourth Stan James Champion Hurdle - and his 47th Festival win - with a bold, front-running ride on Annie Power.
The Willie Mullins-trained mare, only the fourth to win the Stan James Champion Hurdle, was sent off the 5/2 favourite and came home four and a half lengths in front of My Tent Or Yours.
Walsh said: "I said to Willie I was going to ride her like Dawn Run - buck out and go. She travelled super, she jumped probably better than she's ever jumped. She's put in one hell of a performance."
Commenting on the fact that the only two defeats of Annie Power's career have both come at Cheltenham, Walsh said: "Not many horses as good as her have come here and not won here, so she deserved it.
"She was so unlucky last year [when she fell at the final flight in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle] and we copped a fair bit of flak over it, but that is the nature of sport I suppose. She's brilliant.
"She broke smart, pinged the first and travelled super. They went a good gallop but I always felt I was well within myself. I said to David Casey in the morning after we had ridden work, 'just remind me when we are going out not to look back! If they catch me, they catch me'.
"I had a plan and I stuck to it and I let her roll. They weren't going to outstay me; they might outsprint me, so I wanted to put it to them as early as I could. She answered when I gave her a kick and quickened up and flew the last and galloped every step of the way up the hill.
"I knew halfway up the run-in she was going to win and that was it. It's a brilliant feeling. It was a brave call by Willie, I suppose an even braver call by Richie and Susannah [Ricci]. It was great to be on her back."
3.30pm Stan James Champion Hurdle (Grade One) 1 Annie Power (IRE) Willie Mullins, Ireland 8-11-03 Ruby Walsh 5/2 Fav 2 My Tent Or Yours (IRE) (Hood) Nicky Henderson 9-11-10 Barry Geraghty 10/1 3 Nichols Canyon Willie Mullins, Ireland 6-11-10 Paul Townend 15/2 4 The New One (IRE) Nigel Twiston-Davies 8-11-10 Sam Twiston-Davies 5 Top Notch (FR) Nicky Henderson 5-11-10 Daryl Jacob 6 Identity Thief (IRE) Henry de Bromhead, Ireland 6-11-10 Bryan Cooper 7 Lil Rockerfeller (USA) (Sheepskin C/P) Neil King 5-11-10 Trevor Whelan 8 Sign of A Victory (IRE) Nicky Henderson 7-11-10 Andrew Tinkler 9 Camping Ground (FR) (Tongue Strap) Robert Walford 6-11-10 Leighton Aspell 10 Hargam (FR) Nicky Henderson 5-11-10 Mark Walsh PU Peace And Co (FR) Nicky Henderson 5-11-10 Nico de Boinville PU Sempre Medici (FR) (Tongue Strap) Willie Mullins, Ireland 6-11-10 David Mullins
12 ran Non-Runner: Old Guard (Self Cert (Pulled Muscle)) Distances: 4½, hd, 4, 1, 9, 1¼, 2¾, nk, 28 Time: 3m 45.10s (new course record time, beating the 3m 45.25s set by Jezki in 2014 Stan James Champion Hurdle) Breeder: Eamon Cleary Breeding: ch m Shirocco (GER) - Anno Luce (Old Vic) Tote Win: £3.10 Place: £1.70; £2.30; £2.70 Exacta: £23.40
43nd win at The Festival for trainer Willie Mullins 47th win at The Festival for jockey Ruby Walsh (all-time most successful jockey at The Festival) 10th win at The Festival for owner Susannah Ricci
Willie Mullins wins Stan James Champion for fourth time, following Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013) and Faugheen (2015)
Ruby Walsh wins Stan James Hurdle for fourth time, following Hurricane Fly (2011 & 2013) and Faugheen (2015)
Susannah Ricci wins Stan James Champion Hurdle for second time following Faugheen (2015).
Annie Power becomes only the fourth mare to succeed in the Stan James Champion Hurdle following African Sister (1939), Dawn Run (1984) and Flakey Dove (1994).
3.38/1 double on the day for Ricci/Mullins/Walsh following Douvan's win in the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy Chase.
EMULATE DAWN RUN ?
Willie Mullins would like Annie Power to emulate Dawn Run and add a Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup to her victory in today's Stan James Champion Hurdle.
Speaking at a press conference after his mare had lowered the course record - a superb feat given a going description of 'Good to Soft, Soft in places' - Mullins admitted: "I would love her to have a go at it, but her owner [Rich Ricci] has other good horses, too."
Annie Power is a daughter of the stallion Shirocco, who stands at Glenview Stud in Ireland, and she was bred by Eamon Cleary, who named her after his grandmother. She has now won 14 of 16 starts, her defeats coming when second in the three-mile Ryanair World Hurdle in 2014, and when falling at the last when about to win the OLBG Mares' Hurdle 12 months ago. Dawn Run was trained by Mullins' father, Paddy, to achieve the Champion Hurdle/Gold Cup double in 1984 and 1986. She is the only horse to have done so.
That Annie Power had nailed her Festival hoodoo added to the pleasure for her team and Mullins said: "I don't think I have ever seen Rich enjoy a winner more, and certainly Ruby seemed the same way. I didn't expect her to do anything like that, and I'm delighted to have a mare as good as her.
"I had worries fitness-wise before the race and that's why I feel this performance was so good - she came here off the back of a win in a slowly-run mares' hurdle, only three or four weeks ago, and to then come here, jump out, make all and jump from hurdle to hurdle was huge. Her work was good last week, but I did wonder if it was good enough to win a championship.
"I was happy to see My Tent Or Yours up so close to her, because he hadn't run for so long [703 days] and I felt that when push comes to shove she would have what it takes, and it would be some training performance for him to win after such a long break and to climb that hill. She did the necessary.
"We have no regrets about the last two years [in relation to Annie Power at The Cheltenham Festival]. It could have been fantastic last year, and the year before Ruby wanted to ride Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle and since I wanted him to ride Annie Power she went for the World Hurdle. She was beaten by a very good horse on the day.
"In a year's time? Who knows what is going to happen? When I bought Annie Power [from trainer Jim Bolger] I thought this is the closest mare I have seen to Dawn Run. She is a different colour, but physically she is a big strong mare with speed and stamina. We bought her to go over fences like Dawn Run, but that will be discussed - the same owner has Faugheen, Douvan and some nice young novice chasers, but the way she jumps with her size and scope . . . if he wants to emulate Dawn Run, so be it. But it's much easier to keep a horse sound jumping hurdles than trying to go for a Gold Cup."
Asked if there had been any thoughts about retiring Annie Power to the breeding sheds, Mullins said: "She's a racehorse to me - a lot of other guys would say she should now be a broodmare, but that's not on my agenda and I don't think it will be on Rich's. We're going to treat her as a racehorse, but when the effects of the champagne wear off different ideas come up."
He was also asked if trainers are too inclined to race horses over one trip, rather than going up and down in distances, a method he has employed with Annie Power. He said: "In England you have far more choice than we have. A good horse with the right temperament can race over a range of trips, and I'm not afraid to do it. We don't have the same opportunities in Ireland to pick races at certain trips - we just pick a race with the right prize money, regardless of trip.
Of injured Faugheen, who won the Stan James Champion Hurdle last year, Mullins said: "Faugheen is in good order - he was checked out at Troytown [veterinary hospital] the other day and the injury is making proper progress. He could probably be ridden next week, but we'll stick to walking and you'll see him in the autumn."
GERAGHTY IMPRESSED WITH MY TENT
Barry Geraghty was delighted with My Tent Of Yours' second in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, especially since the horse had not been seen on a racecourse for 703 days.
The Nicky Henderson-trained nine-year-old was able to keep tabs on the eventual winner Annie Power throughout the race, but as they came into the straight Annie Power was able to pull clear and win by four and a half lengths. My Tent Of Yours did well to fight off another Willie Mullins-trained runner, Nichols Canyon, by a head.
Geraghty said: "No, no it had not been ideal (not having a run beforehand), but Nicky (Henderson) had him in good shape.
"The mare was very good and was a very strong winner and My Tent Or Yours ran a great race on his comeback so we are very pleased."
The jockey continued: "Yes I was surprised he ran so well and it was great to see it so I'm delighted with him."
In the early days of his career, the son of Desert Prince had been known to race keenly, but Geraghty was impressed with how well he relaxed: "He settled nicely and did everything so well no excuses. The winner was just very, very good and it was really a case of what she found, but I was just very pleased."
Nicky Henderson, trainer of My Tent Or Yours and four others in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, commented: "It has been well documented that it was a fair old while since My Tent Or Yours had seen a racecourse.
"He has not lost the will-power and his jumping is still so slick - he loved it. He settled really well with all the gadgets on him.
"It was a pity he could not have had a comeback earlier in the year but he has still run a fantastic race.
"Top Notch (fifth) ran a great race while Hargam was off the bridle a long way out but Sign Of A Victory (eighth) ran a good race, while Peace And Co was disappointing."
Willie Mullins has a a 1-2-3 in 2015 with Faugheen, Artic Fire and Hurricane Fly but will be missing all three this time.
Champion Hurdle Stats
Previous Cheltenham Festival form (not necessarily winning) has been shown by a host of recent winners. Only Hurricane Fly and Sublimity have won without a first three finish at the previous Festival since Make Stand won as a Novice in 1997.
5 of the last 12 winners ran in the first 3 of the previous years Champion Hurdle, 3 winners finished in first 3 in the Neptune, with Katchit and Rooster Booster winning the previous years Triumph and County Hurdles respectively. Jezki had been third in the 2013 Supreme Novices Hurdle.
9 of the last 12 winners won their prep race
8/11 had won a Grade 1 or Grade 2 Hurdle during the season
10/12 ran between 24 and 51 days beforehand
8/11 had run between 10 and 20 times over hurdles
10/11 reappeared before the New Year
9/11 ran in either the Kempton Christmas Hurdle or Leopardstown Ryanair Hurdle
10/12 were aged between 6 and 8
In 2013 Hurricane Fly became only the third 9 year old winners since Sea Pigeon in 1982 ( the other was Rooster Booster in 2003)
There has only been one five year old winner ( Katchit ) since See You Then in 1985
Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins are 3 time winners in the last decade
Barry Geraghty and Tony McCoy have all won the race twice in the last decade
Nicky Henderson has trained the winner twice since 2005
Champion Hurdle Winners 2006-2015
Champion Hurdle Trivia
Ruby Walsh is the jockey currently racing with most race wins (3)
Retired Champ AP McCoy's was also a 3 time winner . His Champion Hurdle wins were on Binocular (2010), Brave Inca (2006) and Make A Stand (1997)
The Martin Pipe trained Make A Stand won the race as a novice - there is more here
The jockey with most race wins is Tim Molony - he won the race four times in a row from 1951 to 1954
Three of Tim Molony's win came on Sir Ken ( 1952-154)
Other three time Champion Hurdle winners are Istrabraq (1998-2000), See You Then (1985-1987), Persian War (1968-70) and Hatton's Grace ( 1949-51)
See You Then's trainer Nicky Henderson is joint leading trainer on 5 wins with Peter Easterby
Henderson's other winners were on Punjabi (2009) and Binocular (2010)