Will Faugheen claim Festival glory in the Champion Hurdle?
The highlight of Day 1 of the Festival is the Champion Hurdle, a contest which pits the best 2m hurdlers against one another over Cheltenham’s demanding Old Course.
Undoubtedly a talented animal, FAUGHEEN (11/10) claimed the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle in imperious fashion last season before going on to saunter to three facile victories, including two Grade 1 contests over 2m.
His effortless running style and impressive blend of speed and stamina have combined to make him a force to be reckoned with over the minimum trip. To add insult to injury, his master trainer has also managed to iron out his minor jumping frailties and he looks very much the one to beat.
Nonetheless, Faugheen has yet to face rivals of true Grade 1 calibre and his challengers warrant plenty of respect.
The biggest danger according to the betting is The New One (3/1). A multiple Graded winner himself, this son of King’s Theatre was inconvenienced in last year’s contest by the unfortunate fatality of Our Conor yet showed great determination to finish a good third. Unbeaten this season, many will be hoping he can put his course experience to good use.
Last year’s contest was won impressively by Jezki (5/1) in the hands of Barry Geraghty beating the likes of My Tent Or Yours and Hurricane Fly (8/1). Despite confirming the form with the latter named horse at Punchestown, he has since failed in three attempts to repeat that feat. As Jezki regularly flourishes in the Spring, he is likely to have plenty of supporters whilst Hurricane Fly looks best in testing conditions in less demanding races.
Unsurprisingly, Mullins has yet another runner worth mentioning in the form of the improving and unexposed hurdler Arctic Fire (14/1). This six-year-old has run creditably in his last two starts in Grade 1 company and will be suited by the better ground and stronger pace on offer.
Long described as ‘The Machine’, Faugheen’s position at the head of the Champion Hurdle market looks to be more than justified.
Although many will be keen to bemoan his lack of experience against true Grade 1 performers, he has been devastating in each of his starts this season and looks to have plenty more to give. His ability is unquestionable and come the 10th of March the racing world looks set to usher in a new hurdling superstar.