Folly to oppose Faugheen in Champion Hurdle

Well, at least reading the front-page story of the Racing Post on Tuesday, it seems that off-course bookmakers are literally trembling in their boots.

Folly to oppose Faugheen in Champion Hurdle

The trembling has to do with the possibility of four Willie Mullins-trained favourites winning on the opening afternoon of the Cheltenham Festival next Tuesday.

Apparently this might even be the end of the racing world as we know it and the damage it could do to the poor old devils has left many of us praying that at least one of the hotpots gets stuffed!

The waffle was foisted on an unsuspecting public on the day Paddy Power announced they had a cracking 2014, with pre-tax profits of €167m.

Obviously the layers are going to have a bad start if all four of Mullins’ oblige, but it won’t be half as catastrophic as they will tell us and there is always the possibility that punters will get destroyed on the other three days of the Festival.

The bookmakers’ biggest fear, you’d imagine, is with small staking punters, and there are likely to be thousands of them, who will put the four Mullins horses in an accumulator.

The combined odds came to about 17-1 on Tuesday. So, it’s about 1-10 that the bet won’t succeed. In other words the odds are heavily stacked in favour of the bookmakers, which tells us they have no real reason to be getting overly animated.

That said wouldn’t it be absolutely wonderful to see the Mullins horses bang in one by one and then have the puppet masters, not the wafflers, gasping for oxygen.

Right then let’s see if we can find some winners, starting with Faugheen in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle.

Mullins’ charge has had a somewhat extraordinary journey to short priced favouritism.

In lots of ways you wonder did the shrewdest camp in the business actually find out the horse’s true calling by accident.

Take Christmas of 2013 for instance, when Faugheen was sent to Limerick, rather than Leopardstown.

The race he won that day, a Grade Three hurdle, was over three miles and run in heavy ground. No one could have imagined then that they were looking at a possible Champion Hurdle candidate.

Faugheen duly went to Cheltenham and ran away with the two miles and five Neptune Management Novice Hurdle and there seemed no good reason to ever drop him down to two miles.

But then fate intervened at the Punchestown Festival in late April. The meeting began on the Tuesday and one of the feature races was a Grade One, two-mile novice hurdle.

Everyone expected Vautour, who had been so impressive at the trip at Cheltenham previously, when winning the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, to do duty for the Mullins yard.

But Mullins pulled a real rabbit out of the hat when declaring Faugheen instead. It subsequently transpired, of course, that Vautour had failed what Mullins described as “a late fitness test”.

Faugheen proceeded to produce a stunning display and score by 12 lengths, after making all of-the-running.

You will hear people say he hasn’t beaten anything in his two races this season and that’s a fair point.

But Punchestown left a lasting impression and, have no doubt, Faugheen, just like Istabraq used to be, has been trained with just one day in mind.

I want to be with Douvan in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle on Tuesday as well. Again, you can argue the ex-French horse hasn’t beaten a whole lot in his two races in Ireland, but there is an electrifying style and swagger about him.

I would also contend there is no great depth to this particular race. A few of those who figure high up in the betting are going in a different direction and the third favourite, Jollyallan, to my eyes, is a bridle horse!

Sprinter Sacre can land Wednesday’s two-mile Champion Chase. I thought he made an excellent return, after 13 months on the sidelines, when three lengths second behind Dodging Bullets at Ascot.

Tears are never too far away when it comes to Nicky Henderson and he might cry for a week if Sprinter Sacre comes back to anything approaching his best.

I’ve long been a big fan of Vautour and he will carry Thursday’s responsibility in the JLT Novices’ Chase.

He ran a stinker at Leopardstown at Christmas, but enjoyed a nice confidence restorer at the track in January.

I watched him during the week winning last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham a year ago and he simply ate the hill.

Silviniaco Conti will do me in Friday’s Gold Cup. We are all aware he died from the back of the final fence last year, but has really seen out his races this season and just shapes all round as a much better horse.

He is trained as well by a man, Paul Nicholls, who doesn’t half know what it takes to land this race.

Let’s finish with one that is trained by a man, Dermot Weld, who has been good to us over many years, Windsor Park, in Wednesday’s Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle.

If ever a horse has been prepared for just one big day then it is surely this fellow. He wasn’t knocked about when three and a half lengths second to Nichols Canyon in the Deloitte at Leopardstown last month and I’ve a feeling there’s buckets to come.

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