2016 Cheltenham Festival: Is Faugheen flawless?
David Metcalf | February 9, 2016
Faugheen is odds-on at 1/3 with Coral to retain his Champion Hurdle crown at the Cheltenham Festival on Tuesday, March 15th, but is he as flawless as the price suggests or could there be a possible chink is his armour?
The Willie Mullins trained gelding has won 12 of his 13 races under rules, and seven of those victories have come at Grade 1 level.
Faugheen is also unbeaten at Cheltenham, having easily landed the Neptune at the Festival in 2014 before beating stablemate Arctic Fire by 1 1/2 lengths in last year’s Champion Hurdle.
The eight-year-old was allowed to dictate in the latter in slowly run race, and after kicking clear rounding the bend opened up a three length advantage approaching the last.
However, that distance was halved come the winning line, and the runner-up would have been far better suited by a stronger gallop.
Easy lead was a big plus
To me, Faugheen was allowed an easy lead, and it raises a doubt in my mind as to what could have happened had something decided to take him on early doors.
Indeed, his sole career-defeat came when Nichols Canyon did just that in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown back in November.
Faugheen never travelled with any of his usual fluency, and despite it being his seasonal reappearance he really should have been up to winning the race on all known form.
Since then the horse dubbed “The Machine” has gone on to register a facile success in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton against inferior opposition, before putting up arguably the best performance of his career last time out when romping to a scintillating 15 length success over Arctic Fire in the Irish Champion Hurdle.
Awesome display in Irish Champion
Faugheen cruised along at the head of affairs in the hands of an ultra-confident Ruby Walsh in the Irish Champion, and when stablemate Nichols Canyon made a mistake at the second last when trying to mount a challenge the race was over.
Unlike Nichols Canyon, the 30/100 favourite put in a lightening fast jump two from home before stretching effortlessly clear.
It was a performance of immense power, and there is little doubt that Faugheen is going to be very hard to beat at the Festival if turning up in the same form.
However, it was clear in the race that jockey Paul Townend had been told not to get into a battle with Faugheen on Nichols Canyon who had previously shown all his best form when attacking from the front.
Battle for lead may put jumping under pressure
It may be that nothing will be able to go with Faugheen in the early stages of the Champion on the opening day of the Festival, but if something did it would be interesting to see if his jumping held up.
In the past Faugheen has been inclined to take a liberty at one of two obstacles, and if taken out of his comfort zone that could once again become the case.
Looking at the entries for the Champion Hurdle it’s hard to find any real front runners that could possibly take on Faugheen in a battle for the lead.
Top Notch a possible spoiler
Top Notch has been ridden aggressively in his races this season, and is the one that could possibly ruffle his feathers.
He is one of five runners in the race for trainer Nicky Henderson, and like Peace And Co carries the colours of owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede.
With Peace And Co having long been regarded as the better of the pair and needing a strong gallop to be seen at his best, it could well be that Top Notch is in there to act as a pacemaker.
If that proves to be the case Faugheen is unlikely to get things all his own way, and although he looks a cut above his rivals and a worthy red-hot favourite it will be interesting to see how he responds.