RUBY Walsh believes Annie Power could be a Champion Hurdle contender after her win in the Coral Ascot Hurdle on Saturday.

The Grade 2 race may have attracted only four runners, but it still provided a thrilling finish as Annie Power got the better of a determined Zarkandar.

Walsh was happy to bide his time on the 8-13 favourite although untidy jumps checked her momentum.

The Irish raider challenged for the lead approaching two out but Zarkandar (15-8) did not submit until after the last, when Annie Power ran clear to extend her unbeaten run to eight.

The winning jockey said: “It’s always hard for horses stepping up from novice company to races at that level with horses as good as Zarkandar.

“But she matched him over the last two hurdles and when I got stuck into her she went away.

“She will improve lots but it’s still nice to come and win. She has not done anything to say she shouldn’t be aimed at the Champion Hurdle.

“With more experience you don’t know what might happen.” Annie Power has been introduced into the Champion Hurdle betting at 10-1.

She is also 8-1 for the World Hurdle over an extended three miles at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Al Ferof added his name to the illustrious roll call of the Amlin Chase after winning a match against French Opera.

With just two runners taking part this year’s renewal was a shadow of past races, but Al Ferof (1-5 fav) jumped with fluency and verve on his first start in over a year.

Jockey Darly Jacob used the ‘race’ as a schooling exercise ensuring he attacked his fences with panache ahead of a tilt at the King George VI Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup later this season.

Jacob said: “We all knew he would come on for the run and that’s why Paul (Nicholls, trainer) was keen to get a run into him before the King George.

“He jumped great and at the second last and last he was pricking his ears and looking at the crowd as if he had loads left. He looks in grand order and it’s onwards and upwards now.

“It was a perfect run and we wanted to give him a good blow, and not let it turn into a Mickey Mouse race.

Winning owner John Hales added: “I feel sorry for the sponsors that there were only two runners, but as there were he could only go and do what we expected him to. It’s on to the King George now.” Elsewhere, Alasi (5-1) was all out under jockey Dominic Elsworth to hold Saved By John in the Carey Group Handicap Chase.

Doing Fine (10-1) stayed on under pressure to take the opening Novices’ Hurdle on Saturday.

And favourite Dunraven Storm (3-1) was never seriously threatened when winning the feature race on Friday, a handicap hurdle over two miles.

Racing returns to Ascot Racecourse on December 20-21 for the ‘Christmas Meeting’.

The highlight will be the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

But the meeting also features the ultra-competitive Grade 3 Ladbroke Hurdle (2m) and a Listed chase over three miles.