Willie Mullins made his intentions clear at the start of the national hunt season that he would look to saddle more runners in the top British races and the Co. Carlow maestro will attempt to bag a huge pot on Saturday afternoon when he saddles the exciting and unbeaten Annie Power in what is a fascinating renewal of the Coral Hurdle.
There may only be four runners set to congregate at the 2m 3½f start, but what it lacks in quantity it certainly makes up for in quality as the aforementioned Annie Power, who is the emerging mare in Mullins’ yard, will come up against a proven top class hurdler in shape of Zarkandar, who will be looking to kick-start another profitable season over timber for Paul Nicholls.
Zarkandar possesses much stronger form and the former Triumph Hurdle winner showed his class when storming to victory in the Grade One Aintree Hurdle at the end of last season, but the Ditcheat inmate will have to give Annie Power a huge weight advantage in this contest and she is certainly looking to propel on to the big stage after impressing in her native Ireland and notching seven wins from as many starts.
Her facile 12-length victory in the Grade One Mares’ Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse in March gained her rave reviews and many feel she could take over from the mighty Quevega in the female division, but Mullins must feel that she can battle it out with the boys and she has been attracting significant support over the last couple of weeks and is likely to off favourite for this cracking Ascot clash.
Even with a huge weight advantage Annie Power will still need to step up on what she has achieved so far and Zarkandar fans are sure to go into Saturday’s duel positively, as the six-year-old has notched up eight wins in his 11 career starts and has often impressed on his first start of the campaign, so has to warrant significant respect.
Charlie Longsdon’s team have been in cracking form this season and he will saddle the interesting Magnifique Etoile, who returned to the track after a lengthy lay-off last time and annihilated a field round Stratford. He will need to improve considerably now stepped up in grade, but he at least adds another angle to what should be a superb race and could offer some vital clues to the 2014 Champion Hurdle.
The aforementioned Coral Hurdle will not be the only Graded action offer at Ascot as the Amlin 1965 Chase could offer some vital Ryanair Chase or Cheltenham Gold Cup clues as former Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Al Ferof will make his hotly-anticipated return to the racecourse for the Grade Two event.
John Hales’ classy grey is a 20/1 shot for the Gold Cup and if he can show he still oozes the class that saw him land that 2012 Paddy Power Gold Cup then he is sure to plummet in the betting, but he will have a lively foe on Saturday in the shape of the mercurial Captain Chris, who is looking to kick-start his campaign on a winning note.