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Kempton Park

  • 14:35 Christmas Hurdle 2m

  • (Grade 1) £100,000 added 4yo+ 6 ran
  • Winner £56,950 2nd £21,370 3rd £10,700 4th £5,330
  • Going: Good to Soft
  • Surface: Turf
    Weighed In
  • Winning time: 3m 49.80s
  • Off time: 14:38:33

Willie Mullins expects Faugheen progress

Last Updated: 24/12/14 2:42pm

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Faugheen: Christmas Hurdle hopeful

Faugheen: Christmas Hurdle hopeful

Views from connections ahead of the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Willie Mullins thinks Faugheen has made "extraordinary" progress ahead of his latest big-race assignment in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

When the attractive six-year-old was galloping through Somme-like conditions to win a novice hurdle over three miles at Limerick last Christmas, few would have expected him to be heading ante-posts lists for the Champion Hurdle 12 months on.

However, stunning displays at Cheltenham and Punchestown in the spring meant connections had to at least discuss heading down the Champion Hurdle route this term and he could not have been more impressive on his return at Ascot last month.

Faugheen's odds for the hurdling crown are likely to shorten further if he can dispose of his five Boxing Day rivals.

Mullins said: "Faugheen has predominantly raced over further but a lot of the time that was just to keep him apart from the others and I knew that he could stay.

"We ran him over three miles in heavy ground last Christmas so he has plenty of stamina.

"He's surprised me that he's as good as he is. His point form was nothing special. I think he won his point-to-point in May and I'm not sure he has a pedigree that he'd be a Champion Hurdle favourite, so it's a huge leap.

"When he came here my first impression was that he might have been worth half the money we paid for him, but that is true of half the horses that arrive here.

"Last year when he won (at Cheltenham) he was as fit as the hand of god, as they say. He was so fit there wasn't a pick left on him, this year he has come back and could be 100 weight heavier.

"When I sent him to Ascot, I was worried going there with the size of him. Dan Skelton, who stood in for me on the day, remarked to Ruby (Walsh) that he'd never saddled a horse as fat as that for a big race. If he can do that with that amount of condition on him there must be huge improvement in him .

"The day we bought Faugheen we were looking at a novice chasing career. Whether he'll jump a fence now or not I don't know, that will depend on his next two runs. I wouldn't have dreamt about Champion Hurdles when we bought him, though.

"It's extraordinary the progress he has made."

Owner Rich Ricci said: "There isn't much for him. I've got 50 or 60 horses with Willie and Christmas time in Ireland will see a match between Jezki and Hurricane Fly in the Ryanair Hurdle.

"Being a second second-season novice, I'm not keen to take those two on too quickly. The Christmas Hurdle seems like a great race to take in. I've a lot of respect for Irving and Paul Nicholls, of course, but we will have to see what happens. 

"I'd love to win the Christmas Hurdle."

Faugheen's Kempton opponents include the Paul Nicholls-trained Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner Irving and Nicky Henderson's Sign Of A Victory.

Irving was one of last season's leading novice hurdlers before disappointing behind Faugheen's stable companion Vautour in the Supreme at Cheltenham and he suffered a heavy fall on his return to action in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.

The six-year-old got his career back on track with a stylish display at Newcastle, however, and Nicholls is keen to find out whether he is up to Champion Hurdle class.

He said: "It was a great result at Newcastle. He was unlucky at Wincanton when he fell at the last and he needed that run that day. He will improve and will improve again. He has loads of speed and the best is yet to come.

"He (Faugheen) is obviously very good and he's the one to beat. It is a challenge and we'll see. It will tell us whether Irving is a Champion Hurdle horse or not."

Dan Downie, racing manager for the Axom syndicate, is looking forward to another good run.

"If ever we're going to beat Faugheen you'd have to think it will be here," said Downie.

"He (Irving) won the Dovecote there last year so the track suits him and he'll like the ground. If we could hand-pick a course for Irving, Kempton would be right up there.

"We'll know where we are after this, that's for sure, and we're really looking forward to it."

Sign Of A Victory oozed class when making a winning reappearance in an Ascot handicap and steps up to the highest level, having sidestepped The Ladbroke at Ascot last weekend on account of the testing conditions.

Owner Matt Morgan said: "He worked on Saturday and Nicky said he was absolutely brilliant. "We might only be running for place money but he's barely been off the bridle in his life and we're really keen to see what happens when he does.

"Having missed The Ladbroke, if we don't run here there's nothing else for him and after this we'll know if he's running on Friday at Cheltenham (County Hurdle) or on Tuesday (Champion Hurdle).

"There's not a lot of depth in the two-mile division but the next step is a huge step. It's like in football when teams get promoted out of the Championship into the Premiership, that's what we're trying to do.

"The fact that a horse like Hurricane Fly is such a big price for the Champion Hurdle and the current champion (Jezki) is 6-1 tells you all you need to know.

"Faugheen just appears to have a massive engine and no doubt Ruby will be trying to stretch us and Irving and get us off the bridle."

Purple Bay made the most of Irving's final-flight exit to win the Elite Hurdle in early November and trainer John Ferguson believes his charge may well have come out on top in any case.

"I thought he'd run well at Wincanton because he'd been working well," the trainer told At The Races. "If he'd won by half a length it might have been fair to say Irving would have won if he'd stood up but the fact he went on and won by four lengths was quite telling.

"He didn't like Wincanton, he didn't like the ground, but when he jumped the last and got on the better ground, he really picked up and showed the speed he has.

"The handicapper rated him 161 after that so therefore he deserves to take his chance.

"Faugheen's profile is very impressive, but if we want to be a championship contender we have to take part in these races."

Tony McCoy feels the bookmakers have it wrong and that it will be his mount, Purple Bay, who is "most likely" to chase home the hot favourite.

"Faugheen won well at Ascot over two-miles-three and he's a very smart horse," said the champion jockey in his William Hill podcast.

"He won over three miles last year, dropped down to two and a half to win at Cheltenham and then two miles at Punchestown. His form is very solid and he's a worthy Champion Hurdle favourite.

"The others have to step up. Irving was a good enough winner of the Fighting Fifth but this is a step up again, Sign Of A Victory won well at Ascot but that was a handicap and I was second on Sgt Reckless at Aintree to Josses Hill so he was a good novice.

"My ride Purple Bay was a good winner at Wincanton and while Faugheen is the one to beat I think Purple Bay is most likely to chase him home.

"I don't think there was any fluke about his Wincanton form. Irving fell at the last and I don't think there would have been much between them so I think he's a lot better value than what Irving is to follow him (Faugheen) home, so I'd take a chance on Purple Bay each-way."

Sgt Reckless is an interesting contender for Mick Channon, switching back to smaller obstacles after making a winning start over fences at Uttoxeter last time. The seven-year-old picked up minor honours behind Faugheen at Punchestown in the spring.

Channon said: "There wasn't a lot for him over fences and we decided to let him take his chance back over hurdles as it looks as though he'll get his ground.

"They're talking about 15 millimetres of rain coming in on Friday night, so we might as well run him on Friday, when hopefully he'll get his ground.

"Whether he's good enough for a race like this, I don't know. We were put in our place by Faugheen at Punchestown, as most horses have been.

"It's a proper race. Faugheen and Irving are the main ones, but Purple Bay is a good horse as well and so is Sign Of Victory. There are no bad ones in there.

"Our horse is in great form, so we'll give it a go and we'll know where we stand afterwards, that's for sure."

Blue Heron completes the field with Hint Of Mint the only withdrawal at the declaration stage.

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