Jockey Ruby Walsh toasted Rich Ricci’s five-figure gamble after Annie Power put last year’s heartache behind her with a dominant win in the Champion Hurdle on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The mare was only entered into the race last week at a cost of £20,000 to former Barclays investment banking chief Ricci after Faugheen, another of his horses, joined stablemate Arctic Fire in being ruled out.
But the 5/2 favourite avoided a repeat of her final-fence fall on the same course 12 months ago to land the £248,000 prize and help Walsh, trainer Willie Mullins and Ricci to begin the week with a hat-trick of wins.
The Nicky Henderson-trained 10/1 shot My Tent Or Yours finished four and a half lengths behind Annie Power in his first race for almost two years, with Nichols Canyon third.
“It was a brave call to run here and it was good to be on her back,” said Walsh. “I was thinking of the last hurdle ‘I need to ping this’, but she met it on a good stride and absolutely winged it.”
Ricci called the triumph “spectacular”, adding: “Coming to that final hurdle, there was a real collective wish for her to just get over. I didn’t have any doubt about it. But she really flew it.”
Walsh, Mullins and Ricci also enjoyed success with hot favourites Douvan, in the Arkle Chase, and Vroum Vroum Mag, who completed their treble with a perfectly timed charge in the Mares Hurdle.
Henderson’s Altior denied them a four-fold success by winning the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, jockey Nico de Boinville coaxing the 4/1 shot to a seven-lengths victory over Mullins-trained favourite Min.