Annie Power fit for battle of sexes at Cheltenham Festival

Willie Mullins' massive chestnut challenges Big Buck's at Cheltenham while Quevega aims for six in a row in Mares' Hurdle

Meaning no disrespect to the unbreakable nerve and intensity of desire of the men in the saddle, it is the horses who are at the heart of it all. Not merely in their majority physical contribution to the athletic partnership but in the hold and fascination they exert. The presence of even Tony McCoy would not add to the gate of a routine midweek meeting, but hear those turnstiles click should a Gold Cup winner turn up for a run-out.

At the Cheltenham Festival, where the best of the best collide, there is regularly the possibility to stand amazed at a feat out of the ordinary and, even without the sublime, preening presence of the electric two-mile chaser Sprinter Sacre, horizons will not feel diminished this week. Ireland's idol Hurricane Fly, his fight and aggression still intact at the age of 10, will be aiming to win a third Champion Hurdle; tough, unassuming Bobs Worth goes for a second Gold Cup; and the best long-distance hurdler there has even been, Big Buck's, has a fifth World Hurdle in his sights.

But this year, unusually, it may be the females of the species providing some of the warmest memories. On Tuesday, Quevega will try to become the first horse to win the same race at the Festival for the sixth time. The 10-year-old will contest the OLBG Mares' Hurdle. And on Thursday, her hugely exciting stablemate Annie Power takes on Big Buck's in the World Hurdle in what could not just be the showdown of the week, but the revelation.

Both mares are trained by Willie Mullins in Co Carlow. They are, however, chalk and cheese. Quevega is small, delicate and moody, a spoilt princess who expects to be treated like one. Annie Power, though pretty enough in the face, is physically a gelding in disguise, and a strong-headed one at that.

Like for like at championship level, racing mares are not as good as their male counterparts; even the best would not break into an all-time top fifty. But on a given occasion they can beat the boys, even if they need the slight weight allowance they get to do it. After all, the only horse to have joined the immortals by winning both the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup is a mare, Dawn Run.

Quevega currently shares the Cheltenham numerical record with Golden Miller, hero of the Gold Cup from 1932-36, and though prize money is important even for a multi-millions operation like Mullins's (there will be some £3.8 million on offer in 27 contests this week), for the Irishman a place in history, and the skill involved to take it, is too.

"When you're reading those old books about Golden Miller's five in a row," he said, "as a trainer I find it as satisfying as anything to produce a horse to go back there every year. This one has the ability, and that's the key. We mind that ability, and produce it on the days that count."

Over the years Quevega has been campaigned sparingly – Tuesday's contest will be the little bay's first race of the season, as it has been for the past four years – but thoroughly effectively; the last time she lost was nearly four years ago. But though she is a legend, on strict ratings she is no champion.

Nor is Annie Power, at least not yet. But there's the thrilling anticipation; the massive chestnut is in only her second season, and not only has she never been beaten, she has barely been extended, with an aggregate winning distance of 140 lengths in her 10 runs. The extent of her breathtaking talent remains undefined, even to her trainer, and she just could be, like Dawn Run, a bit of a freak. "She's always had the size and scope to be anything," said Mullins. "And she's just growing into herself all the time. I don't know how good she is."

Her innate power is such that on her first visit to Cheltenham, in January this year, she was still virtually running away with Ruby Walsh as he tried to pull her up after two-and-a-half miles and that gruelling uphill finish on soft ground. She had three options at the Festival, but the first two would have meant taking on Hurricane Fly, also one of Mullins's powerful string, or Quevega.

She will be trying as far as three miles for the first time in the World Hurdle, and her clash with Big Buck's, trained by Paul Nicholls, has all the elements: Ireland and Britain, the champ and the contender, male and female. The added twist is that, until he threw his lot wholly in with Mullins this season, Walsh rode Big Buck's. But in the end, it is the extraordinary horses who matter.

Festival fancies

Tuesday

Gilgamboa (1.30) is one of the longer-priced Irish raiders but looks sure to give a good account. Baby Mix (5.15) has taken well to fences and though he has not run since December, goes well fresh.

Wednesday

Sizing Europe (3.20) has not been out of the first two at the past four Festivals. and has an each-way chance in a race he won in 2011. Red Sherlock (1.30) may find the solution to the Novices' Hurdle.

Thursday

Vics Canvas (2.05) could outrun his long odds if the sun keeps shining. Taquin Du Seuil (1.30), a smart novice hurdler, is even better over fences.

Friday

Caid Du Berlais (4.40) has been novice chasing but form puts him right in the mix over hurdles. Next Sensation (5.15) has climbed ratings but may still be ahead of his mark.

Sue Montgomery

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin