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Mares Champion Hurdle 2014 – Punchestown Odds

The 2014 Punchestown Festival goes out with a bang on Saturday when Annie Power sets out to capture the Grade 1 Mares Champion Hurdle over 2m2f (3.45).

Willie Mullins’ superstar, Annie Power (1/5), landed her first Grade 1 victory this time last year when coming 12l clear at Fairyhouse (2m4f, soft), before adding two Grade 2’s at Ascot and Doncaster. Such a sequence took her unbeaten career record in all codes to 10-10 as she faced her toughest assignment to date in the World Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

Backed off the boards into 11/8 favourite that day, Annie Power managed to shake off the challenge of reigning champion, Big Buck’s, but just couldn’t hold off More Of That up the Cheltenham hill, over the longest trip she had tackled (3m, good).

She lost nothing in going down by just over 1l that day, despite being a bit keen off the slower pace over 3m, but Saturday’s step back to what is likely to prove a stronger gallop over 2m2f will suit her much better. The odds also suggest she will find this race more to her liking, as she currently trades at 1/5 to win her Punchestown debut, and if shows her best form, then those odds look about right.

But, with only two clear favourites delivering in this race over the last 10 years, there is hope for each-way backers who may think Annie Power could flop here, having experienced such a hard race at Cheltenham. If that proves to be the case, then there could be value to be found via the likes of stablemate, Glens Melody (10/1).

This 6yo has recorded an excellent strike-rate of 7-12 over hurdles, including victory in this very race 12 months ago, one that came a month after she lost to Annie Power by 12l (2m4f). Since last spring, Glens Melody won a couple of Listed hurdles, and got to within 1l of the mighty, Quevega, at Cheltenham in March (2m4f), and rates excellent each-way value on that form alone, especially if eight or more runners make the line-up.

Mullins has an alternative entry in Florishwells D‘Ete (25/1), who has shown good form, including victory in a Grade 1 at Fairyhouse last month (2m4f, soft).

On 8/1 is John Quinn’s Cockney Sparrow, who was over 3l behind Glens Melody at Cheltenham (hampered before running on), but bounced back to win a Grade 2 at Aintree three weeks ago (2m, good to soft). A faller when crossing swords with Annie Power at Doncaster back in January, it will be interesting to see if Cockney Sparrow can improve once more from that career best at Aintree last time. If so, then she has to be involved.

This year’s renewal of the Mares Champion Hurdle looks a really fascinating affair, and one in which it may not be as plain sailing for Annie Power as the 1/5 odds suggest. There are several improvers in the field, and it will be interesting to see who Willie Mullins decides to run. But, as things stand, the “each-way” vote goes to Cockney Sparrow, who impressed at Aintree last time and is capable of being placed at least.