PAT KEANE: Faugheen has all the qualities needed to be champion

Selectivity and discipline are the key ingredients for any punter who harbours hopes of making a profit at Cheltenham this week, writes Pat Keane.

Today is all about Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, who will supply four relatively short-priced favourites, including the much-hyped Faugheen in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, as well as Douvan, Un De Sceaux and Annie Power.

Faugheen has never been beaten in nine races, one point-to-point and eight times on the track, but this is the first occasion will have faced genuine Grade 1 horses.

Everything about the seven-year-old, however, screams that here is a champion hurdler in waiting and it will certainly represent the worst possible start for the Irish should he fail to deliver.

Mullins (pictured) has adopted a softly, softly approach with his charge this season and has confined Faugheen to winning two modest enough contests in a canter, at Ascot and Kempton.

But it was Faugheen’s magnificent display at the Punchestown festival in April that marked him down as a possible star of the future.

Running over a two-mile trip for the first time, he made every yard of the running, exploding clear in the closing stages to score by 12 lengths.

The New One was the selection for the race a year ago and was a desperately unlucky loser.

He was badly hampered when ill-fated Our Conor fell at the third and did remarkably well afterwards to claim third behind Jezki and My Tent Or Yours.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ charge is unbeaten in four races this season, but was rather disappointing on his latest appearance at Haydock in January.

His jumping technique did not impress and he went to his right at several of the flights. He simply cannot afford to behave in such a manner now.

Jezki is the reigning champion and if he wins for Tony McCoy then the celebrations could well be unprecedented - even by Cheltenham standards.

The bottom line, though, is he has not progressed in the manner that might have been anticipated and has been beaten three times of late by Hurricane Fly.

And that brings us on nicely to Hurricane Fly, the former dual champion, who looked to be a spent force when kicked out of the way by Jezki last season, both at Cheltenham and subsequently at Punchestown.

But he has made a Lazarus-like recovery this campaign, winning all three of his races. You underestimate him at your peril, but logic tells us the ground won’t be soft enough and that he is at his best at Leopardstown.

Faugheen is capable of making all-of-the-running, if that is what’s required, and expect the best tactician in the business, Walsh, to get it spot on.

Douvan can get the Mullins-Walsh juggernaut off to the ideal start by landing the opening Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The French recruit could not have been more impressive in landing his two races in Ireland, at Gowran Park and Punchestown, and, unless he’s a bridle horse, will take a lot of beating.

The exciting Un De Sceaux will go off at tight odds for the Racing Post Arkle Trophy and the overwhelming evidence tells us will win, providing something unforeseen doesn’t happen.

Odds on shots over fences at this meeting, though, are not my cup of tea and we can enjoy the view, without a financial involvement.

Mullins’ Annie Power will go off at roughly the same price as Un De Sceaux, in the OLGB Mares’ Hurdle, and, with good reports about her homework filtering through, she is impossible to oppose.

I expect a big run from Gordon Elliott’s Cause Of Causes in the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase.

His ability to stay four miles has to be taken on trust, but he does shape as a horse that has been laid out for this meeting.

A year ago here, Cause Of Causes was second to Spring Heeled in the three miles and a furlong plus Kim Muir and might have won, but for blundering at the last.

Keane’s Best Bets

3.20 Faugheen (nap)1.30 Douvan 4.00 Annie Power4.40 Cause Of Causes (e/w)


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