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Faugheen the machine takes centre stage at Ascot

Faugheen makes his eagerly awaited return to action in the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle at Ascot today (2.40) and looks a cut-above his rivals.

The Willie Mullins trained gelding is unbeaten in six runs under rules, two in bumpers and four over hurdles, and is currently Coral’s 11/4 favourite for the 2015 Champion Hurdle.

The son of Germany has not been asked a serious question in any of his successes, and owes his position at the head of the market to impressive wins at the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals.

Faugheen only had to be ridden out to beat Ballyalton by 4 1/2 lengths in the 2m 5f Neptune and put in a monster display on home turf when cruising home hard-held to winning the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle by 12 lengths.

He won the latter in the style of a horse with a massive engine who had the potential to go right to the very top this season, and this looks a great starting point to the new campaign.

It will be very disappointing if Faugheen doesn’t live up to his star billing and win this with ease to provide Mullins and owners Rich and Susannah Ricci with back-to-back wins in the event following Annie Power’s win 12 months ago.

Of Faugheen’s opponents, Blue Fashion and Lac Fontana are the most interesting and the likeliest to capitalise if he has an off day.

The former won juvenile events at Cagnes-sur-Mer and Auteuil in 2012/13 when trained in France by Francois Cottin, and ran a blinder on his first start for Henderson when finishing fourth to Diakali in a Grade 1 at Auteuil.

The five-year-old backed that up with an excellent second to More Of That in a very competitive handicap hurdle at Haydock when attempting to give the subsequent World Hurdle winner 6lb.

Blue Fashion is potentially very smart judged on that effort, and is going to be a big player in this if ready to roll at the first time of asking after 364 days on the sidelines.

Lac Fontana is trained by Paul Nicholls and put in a gutsy display to land the ultra competitive County Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last season before following up in a Grade 1 contest at Aintree.

The five-year-old may well have found the race coming to quickly when finishing last of four to Faugheen’s stable companion Vautour when last seen in action at Punchestown, and with the stable going well it would be no surprise to see Lac Fontana bounce back and run a big race.