Faugheen on retrieval mission in Irish Champion Hurdle
Last Updated: 02/02/18 2:16pm
Faugheen is on a retrieval mission in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.
The 10-year-old has questions to answer for the first time in his career after an inexplicable run in the Ryanair Hurdle over Christmas.
What made the performance all the more mystifying was that he had returned from a lengthy absence a month earlier with a display that seemed to prove all his old ability was still intact.
Nothing has come to light since that run and Willie Mullins is happy to let him prove his doubters wrong.
The champion trainer also runs Melon, runner-up in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last season and a fine third behind My Tent Or Yours and The New One at Cheltenham in December, and Bapaume.
Mullins said: "It was head-scratching what happened at Christmas and frustrating. I just hope it doesn't happen again.
"Once he came back in with no physical evidence of any legs problems I was relieved. Well then it might be wind, lungs, heart or a muscle problem, but we haven't seen any evidence of that.
"He's had an ECG scan done and had his wind checked. Something must have choked him on the day or something like that."
Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins added: "Faugheen is doing what he always does at home - his work is exceptional.
"Having said that his work was exceptional before Christmas as well. We're just hoping it was a one-off. Everything seems to be good.
"Melon ran a super race in Cheltenham. He needs to improve to win at the top table, but we think he's capable of it.
"He travelled very strongly in Cheltenham and we're putting the hood on him for the first time. If that helps him conserve more energy for the end of the race he should finish better and it will be very interesting to see how he goes.
"Bapaume ran a cracker at Christmas and I think he could run better than the odds suggest. He's coming a long way back in trip, but we think he's quite versatile he should improve given that was his first run of the season.
"I think he could pick up a large chunk of the prize-money."
The chief market threat to the big Mullins duo is last year's Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil, a rare British challenger this weekend sent by Philip Hobbs and ridden by Richard Johnson with Barry Geraghty at Sandown for Buveur D'Air.
He is, however, another looking to bounce back after running no sort of race on his seasonal reappearance.
"He's got to bounce back after what happened at Ascot, but I'm looking forward to riding him again," said Johnson.
"He seems in very good form at home. Obviously it's a very good race and we just hope he runs a nice race and does himself justice.
"We'll see how he goes and see where we go from there."
Supasundae is a big fancy for the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham but faces an unusual prep over a mile less.
"He'll probably be taken off his feet but it will sharpen him up because he'll need to be pretty sharp for the three miles at Cheltenham as they always start off a good gallop," said said Jessica Harrington of last year's Coral Cup winner.
"Sometimes he takes a bit of time to warm up into his race so that's why he's going over two miles, to sharpen him up.
"His main aim is the three-mile race at Cheltenham. He's a horse that loves good ground and I don't really want to bottom him out running over two and a half or three miles on heavy ground that he doesn't like, so we thought we'd bring him back to two miles here."
Harrington also runs former champion hurdler Jezki.
"He's not entered in the three-miler at Cheltenham and will wait for Aintree and Punchestown, hopefully on better ground," she said.
"Three miles is probably his best trip on better ground and two miles or two and a half suits on soft ground."
Gordon Elliott's Mick Jazz took advantage of Faugheen's no-show at Christmas, but the trainer is aware of his task this time.
"If the real Faugheen turns up, he's the horse everyone has to beat," Elliott told At The Races.
"He's in good form. He was pretty fit the day he won. That was him on the day."