Annie Power is pick of the pack for Ricci as he targets OLBG Mares’ Hurdle bid

GOOD BET: Annie Power, seen in action at Doncaster last year, is likely to run in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
GOOD BET: Annie Power, seen in action at Doncaster last year, is likely to run in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham.
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owner Rich Ricci rates Annie Power as his best chance of a winner at next week’s Cheltenham Festival after confirming the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle would “more than likely” be her target.

The leading owner is preparing to unleash a star-studded team at Prestbury Park next week, with Champion Hurdle favourite Faugheen, the red-hot Supreme Novices’ Hurdle favourite Douvan and Queen Mother Champion Chase contender and dual Festival winner Champagne Fever also major players in their respective races.

Annie Power lost her unbeaten record when runner-up behind More Of That in last season’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle and Ricci admits another tilt at the staying crown is tempting after Jonjo O’Neill’s champion was ruled out because of the injury.

However, with his mare having been off the track since winning at Punchestown last May, he feels the sensible call is to let her take on her own sex on the opening day – a task made easier by the injury-enforced absence of Malton trainer John Quinn’s Aurore D’Estruval.

Speaking at a Sky Bet-organised Cheltenham preview evening at Leeds Town Hall, Ricci said: “I think she’s our best chance and I think she’s going to run in this race (Mares’ Hurdle), more than likely.

“We’ll keep her entered for the World Hurdle. People ask me am I tempted by the World Hurdle and yes I am, as it’s rare to have a chance in each of the championship races.

“We have a chance in the Champion Hurdle (Faugheen), we have a chance in the Champion Chase (Champagne Fever), we would have a chance with her (Annie Power) if she ran in the World Hurdle and we have a chance in the Gold Cup (Djakadam).

“Last year she was beaten by a better horse, but she was also very keen on the day and I just think that given the way she runs, and it will be her first run of the season, it makes sense if you want Cheltenham winners to run in this race. It might be the sporting thing to do, it might not be the sporting thing to do, I don’t know.”

Former winners Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy headline 12 horses still in contention for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

Their biggest threats could be the Paul Nicholls pair of Mr Mole, the mount of AP McCoy, and two-time Grade One winner Dodging Bullets, who will be ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies.

Meanwhile, Coneygree, Don Poli and Kings Palace are the star names among 14 novices going forward for the RSA Chase on the same afternoon.

Despite his novice status, Coneygree still holds an entry in the Gold Cup 48 hours later.

North Yorkshire rider Andrew Thornton, who won the 1999 Gold Cup on Cool Dawn, is free to ride at Cheltenham next week after having a six-day ban reduced to three days following an appeal.

The rider, who is closing in on a landmark 1,000 career winners, was suspended after weighing in 2lb heavier than weighing out on Saucysioux in a Bumper at Plumpton.

Rotherham rider Joe Palmowski’s winning run continued when he partnered 25-1 outsider Cowslip to victory at Carlisle yesterday for Middleham trainer George Moore – it was the Northern Racing College graduate’s seventh career win.

Alastair Down, the legendary racing broadcaster and journalist, will officially open the Middleham Stables Open Day on Good Friday (April 3).