Revealed! Mullins’ top Cheltenham Mares’ Hurdle dark horse
Willie Mullins has won six of the Cheltenham Festival Mares’ Hurdle’s seven runnings, each time with recently retired current champion Quevega, but this year’s 1/1 favourite Annie Power is far from certain to take her place in the contest, suggesting there’s value to be had.
Mullins’ stable jockey Ruby Walsh stated last week that he is ‘optimistic’ that the much-lauded Ricci family animal will line up at Prestbury Park this March, but Annie Power hasn’t run all season due to injury and the feted County Kildare horseman cautioned that ‘there’s no room for any hold ups.’
To make matters even worse for the seven-year-old’s Cheltenham Tuesday backers, the 2014 Ladbrokes World Hurdle runner-up is joint-third favourite for the stayers’ race at 10/1, with defending champion More Of That heading the market at 7/2 for Jonjo O’Neill.
Backing Annie Power at double-money odds for the Mares’ Hurdle doesn’t make sense at this juncture, especially considering Quevega was a five-year-old when she first won the race, as was 2008 victor Whiteoak.
Finding a Mullins alternative in the market isn’t easy, with last year’s runner-up Glens Melody a tad short at 6/1 after the seven-year-old’s patchy, winless season so far.
Morning Run should come into the picture at 7/1 after thumping recent wins over Carrigmoorna Rock (16/1 for Mares’ Hurdle) and stablemate Lyrical Theatre (25/1), but Mullins insists his pair will return to Punchestown this spring instead of heading to the Cotswolds.
An interesting contender going somewhat under the radar is 33/1 shot Analifet, who had the likes of Gordon Elliott’s Clarcam miles behind her when impressing in two easy early 2013/14 wins.
Analifet then pulled up after three obstacles with a pelvic injury when 30/100 favourite in the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle on Stephens’ Day 2013 at Leopardstown.
She finished last on her return to action at Naas in November, then fell two out when in touch with eventual winner Carrigmoorna Rock in a Grade 2 Mares’ Hurdle at Leopardstown over Xmas, before finishing a decent third in Doncaster when well-backed at the same level at the end of last month.
Sending Analifet over to England for the first time just seven weeks out from Cheltenham may have been a telling clue from Mullins.
She’s a French-bred five-year-old, like Quevega was in 2009 before her first Prestbury Park triumph, and with the rest of Mullins’ females either questionably priced, unfit or set for elsewhere, Analifet could be the key to this riddle.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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