Annie Power is certain to be a major force at the Cheltenham Festival but her target remains unlikely to be decided until close to the premier jumps meeting despite taking her perfect record to 10 in the OLBG.com Mares’ Hurdle at Doncaster on Saturday.
The Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old has the Champion Hurdle over two miles, the World Hurdle over three miles and even the mares’ race dominated by Quevega as potential options in March, and this was no more than a most impressive stroll.
Ruby Walsh set out to make every yard of the running on his only mount of the day and the giant mare gradually ground her rivals into submission.
Sent off at the prohibitive price of 1-6 favourite, her task was made even easier when Fighting Fifth second Cockney Sparrow fell at the second-last, although she looked to very much have her measure at the time.
Donald McCain’s Doyly Carte was left in second but she was no match for Annie Power, who trotted up by 15 lengths despite a minor blip at the last.
Valdez (15-8 favourite) gave Alan King his first winner since he was forced to shut down his stables with an emphatic victory in the Racing Post Lightning Novices’ Chase.
The Barbury Castle trainer only resumed operations on Friday after his horses had been under a cloud and Valdez got the team back up and running in this Grade Two contest as he cut down Arnaud to score by three and a quarter lengths.
Speaking from Cheltenham, King said: “He’ll come straight to Cheltenham now for the Festival, and I hope the Arkle.”
Malcolm Jefferson believes Urban Hymn’s future is over fences after the 9-4 favourite rallied gamely in the testing conditions to deny Blakemount by a short head in the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle. Jefferson said: “He won’t run again before Cheltenham if he runs there. We’ll enter him in the two-mile-five and the three-mile novices. I’ll wait until Oscar Rock runs at Haydock. He might be more the three-miler.”