The Cheltenham festival is now just over a week away and as you would expect, the news continues to come thick and fast with plans being made public on an almost hourly basis. The big trial races may now be done and dusted but that hasn't stopped the upcoming festival from dominating the headlines, especially over the last few days in particular.
The Road To Cheltenham has been a long and bumpy one but that journey is now drawing to a close with the majority of the 27 Festival races starting to finally take shape. One long running saga finally came to an end on Sunday when Willie Mullins announced that Annie Power will run in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham next week. The speculation surrounding the mare has reached fever pitch at times this winter with the horse among the most talked about in the sport.
Annie Power remains unbeaten from her 10 starts on a racecourse and the feeling for much of that career has been that she could just be something special. Mullins and the Ricci family had been reluctant to select her Festival target with the Champion Hurdle also seemingly under serious consideration. Three of her four wins this season though have come over two and-a-half miles and connections are convinced that the three mile trip of the World Hurdle will suit here down to the ground next week. It was also unlikely that Willie Mullins would have wanted Annie Power to run against Hurricane Fly which left the stayers race as the obvious choice, with Ruby Walsh set to partner both horses.
The World Hurdle market has been one of the most competitive of the season so far and the announcement that Annie Power will run has added more fuel to the flames. Punters have been quick to latch onto the mare with her World Hurdle price cut from 9/4 into 2/1 over the past few hours, which in the process saw her usurp Big Buck's as the ante-post favourite. That price is perhaps based on Annie Power's reputation rather than the form she has shown this season, with the Festival race expected to the first real acid test of her talent.
There was not such good news for another Willie Mullins horse on Sunday afternoon with RSA Chase fancy Ballycasey falling during a schooling session at Leopardstown. The popular grey won the Dr PJ Moriarty Novice Chase last time out but his price drifted on Sunday after he unseated Ruby Walsh during the gallop. Betfred pushed him out to 11/2 for the RSA after the fall although connections reported the horse to be in good health despite the jumping mistake.
One horse who did certainly impresses when schooling at Leopardstown on Sunday was Our Conor who looks to be in perfect shape for the Champion Hurdle. Trainer Dessie Hughes took the same route with the horse 12 months ago on the way to winning the Triumph Hurdle and connections are hoping he can repeat the trick this time in the Champion Hurdle.
Our Conor travelled with great enthusiasm at Leopardstown during his gallop and although he has been beaten by Hurricane Fly twice this season, there are a few punters who believe he can reverse that form at Cheltenham next week. The Champion Hurdle is potentially the race of the meeting and Our Conor is available at a best price of 9/2 to follow up his Triumph Hurdle success with another one on in day one feature.
There also was news out of the Nicky Henderson yard over the weekend with the Seven Barrows team announcing that Triolo D'Alene will take his chance in the Gold Cup. The Hennessy Gold Cup winner is on his way to the Grand National but it has been decided to let him run at the Festival with the race seemingly wide open this season. He is certainly a progressive chaser for Henderson and it wouldn't be a total surprise if he ran on into a place at 20/1 for each-way punters.
In other Gold Cup related news, AP McCoy has said that he is likely to ride Teaforthree in the race with the Rebecca Curtis trained horse also on the way to Aintree for the National. McCoy also confirmed at the weeken that he will ride At Fishers Cross for Curtis in the World Hurdle and Taquin Du Seuil in the JLT Novices Chase at Cheltenhamnext week, as he looks to add to his list of Festival winners.
McCoy did also have the option of riding the progressive More Than That in the World Hurdle this year but he has stayed loyal to a horse with proven course form. At Fishers Cross won the Albert Bartlett last season and after a couple of awful displays this winter, he looked to be back somewhere near his best last time out when second in the Cleeve Hurdle. He will need to improve again up against the likes of Annie Power and Big Buck's but he will certainly have a better chance with the Champion Jockey in the irons.
Meanwhile the ground at Prestbury Park is expected to remain soft over the next few days with more rain expected at Cheltenham on Monday afternoon. After that though, there are drying conditions expected towards the end of the week which could have a major impact on how we start the Festival next Tuesday.