Ricci: Tough call over Annie Power
Rich Ricci has insisted that he remains undecided over a Cheltenham Festival target for his star mare Annie Power, while hinting that it may be the Stanjames.com Champion Hurdle rather than the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in which she ultimately lines up.
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The unbeaten six-year-old, whose two victories this season have come at Ascot and Cheltenham, is being prepared for the Cheltenham Festival, but has a number of options at the meeting.
Bookmakers at this stage have her shorter in the betting for the World Hurdle than for either the Champion or the OLBG David Nicholson Mares Hurdle, in which stablemate Quevega is set to bid for an unprecedented sixth success.
However Ricci, whille still keeping his cards fairly close to his chest, admitted on At The Races that she had initially been kept over hurdles this season with the idea of running in the Champion Hurdle.
"I think it's great that so many people are interested, it's good for racing, which is important to me, so I'm delighted and very proud of that fact," said Ricci.
"People don't believe me but I can be honest and tell you I wanted to take her chasing earlier in the year, we talked about it in September, October and we decided we'd keep her over hurdles with the big days in mind - the big days being the Champion Hurdle, the World Hurdle - and we haven't talked about it since.
"What's on my mind is trying to find her her next race, I think she needs another race. Willie might not, I haven't talked to him about it.
"It's hard. I think she'd be a very competitive runner at either two miles or three miles and we'll just have to see how it plays out. We've got the Irish Champion Hurdle coming up, there's the Cleeve Hurdle, see how those cards play and before we hold a gun to our own heads we'll see how things pan out.
"But she's in great form and the trick now is finding her next race.
"People who know me know I'm in this, as a hobby of course, but to win and compete at the highest level and to try and win the big ones.
"The Champion Hurdle is a big one but the World Hurdle is big as well.
"But, yes, look, I'd be less than honest if I said if I didn't keep her over hurdles to run in the Champion Hurdle, I'd be silly. And we did, we kept her over hurdles to see if she was a Champion Hurdle horse and she's answering all of those questions, but we have to see how it all plays out.
"But certainly that was the intent at the beginning of the season and she's done nothing to disprove us - that doesn't mean we'll run there, there's still a lot to play for - but yes, absolutely, you want to win the big ones."
Ricci was asked whether he felt a bigger field and a faster pace would enable her to be competitive at the shorter distance of the Champion.
"I look at the Defy Logic run last year in that Grade Two where he really set a good pace and she really showed a turn of foot," he said. "It wasn't a big field but that gallop suited her.
"The mares' race was probably the biggest race she's won she won a bumper, I think it was a 30-runner or 25-runner bumper or something. She's done well in those field, but she's in great nick and I'm looking forward to her next run."
Interviewer Matt Chapman next asked Ricci whether the availabillity of Ruby Walsh would have a bearing on the final decision as to where to run her.
Walsh would appear certain to ride Hurricane Fly against Annie Power if the pair did both line up in the two-mile championship contest, although the dual Champion winner will line up next in the BHP Irish Champion Hurdle at the end of this month.
"It has a bearing but I have absolute confidence in Paul [Townend] as well," responded Ricci.
"I think what we'll do is worry about what is the best race for the horse rather than for the jockey - I think that's the right way to think about it - and see what happens from there."