Willie Mullins has had many great days in racing but, as he debriefed the media in a packed winner’s enclosure, it was hard to escape the sense that few meant quite as much to Ireland’s champion trainer as Faugheen’s epic victory in the Flogas Novice Chase on day two of the Dublin Racing Festival.
Mullins had already seen Asterion Forlonge power to victory in the second today’s four Grade Ones, the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, when he sent Faugheen into the battle.
Faugheen had already defied his advancing years to trash Samcro at Limerick over Christmas and the 12-year-old novice chaser was sent off the 13-8 joint-favourite alongside the five years younger Battleoverdoyen.
The pair traded blows from the get-go but, with Faugheen’s jumping not always entirely fluent, for much of the contest it seemed the fairytale the crowd craved would not come to pass.
But like the champion he is, Faugheen dug in and fought in the hands of Paul Townend.
And eventually, after jumping the second last fence, he broke Battleoverdoyen’s resistance, Gordon Elliott’s tiring charge falling when beaten at the last.
Now Easy Game, a stablemate of Faugheen, emerged as the danger but the 2015 Champion Hurdle hero dug deep to cross the line a half-length in front.
“It’s was probably one of the most special winners I’ve ever had,” Mullins said. “Coming here, I was worried he’d get a bad fall and get injured or something but he just comes up trumps.
“He’s got everything, he’s got stamina, he’s got speed, he can jump – he’s got it all, the whole package. He’s got a will as well; he’s a bit like Un De Sceaux. Every morning they go out, they want to train, they want to get at the job and you’re really trying to not let them do too much. It’s just their attitude; they’ve a huge attitude to racing and training.
“We have horses at home who are so fit and well and people want to retire them at 10,11. 12, but, to me, they’ve plenty of life in them if they haven’t used up all the mileage as younger horses and we traditionally don’t race our horses that much. They get five or six runs a year, they can go much longer than people think and he’s living proof of that.”
Asked about future plans, Mullins was non-committal. “I’m going to enjoy today. Today was the day. I said it coming up here: ‘Today could be his Gold Cup’. He’s won, he’s done it, and we’re going to enjoy it.”
In contrast, the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup, officially the main event of the Dublin Racing Festival, made for less than joyous viewing for the Mullins camp as Kemboy paid a heavy price for an error-strewn round of jumping, going down by a length and half to the Elliott-trained Delta Work.
The seven-year-old, sent off at odds of 5-2, had won the Savills Chase over course and distance at Christmas but was far more impressive on this occasion and must now be regarded as the leading Irish contender for the Cheltenham Gold Cup, for which he was cut to between 4-1 and 11-2.
“The last couple of seasons he's improved with races,” Elliott, who saddled Don Cossack to victory in the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup, said. “We missed here last year and went straight to Cheltenham, which might not have been ideal. It’s great for Jack (Kennedy, jockey) who is a young lad only coming back after a few injuries and he has nerves of steel.
“The one thing we have learned about this horse is to put him to sleep and get him popping away. It’s all systems go now for Cheltenham. Our horse is improving the whole time and we can dream about a Gold Cup now.”
The vagaries of the game were very much in evidence in the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle, the day’s first Grade One, as yesterday’s heroine Rachael Blackmore found herself eating grass as 2-5 favourite Aspire Tower fell at the last when still in with every chance. That looked to have left the race at the mercy of the Joseph O’Brien-trained Cerberus but he idled on the run-in to allow stablemate A Wave Of The Sea snatch victory.
That was a stunning finale but, in truth, the day – and weekend - belonged to Faugheen, the racing equivalent of Benjamin Button.