Mullins: Faugheen has made ‘extraordinary’ progress

Willie Mullins thinks Faugheen (pictured) has made "extraordinary" progress ahead of his latest big-race assignment in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Friday

Mullins: Faugheen has made ‘extraordinary’ progress

When the attractive six-year-old was galloping through Somme-like conditions to win a novice hurdle over three miles at Limerick last Christmas, few would have expected him to be heading ante-posts lists for the Champion Hurdle 12 months on.

However, stunning displays at Cheltenham and Punchestown in the spring meant connections had to at least discuss heading down the Champion Hurdle route this term and he could not have been more impressive on his return at Ascot last month.

Faugheen’s odds for the hurdling crown are likely to shorten further if he can dispose of his five St Stephen’s Day rivals. Mullins said: “Faugheen has predominantly raced over further but a lot of the time that was just to keep him apart from the others and I knew that he could stay.

“We ran him over three miles in heavy ground last Christmas so he has plenty of stamina.

“He’s surprised me that he’s as good as he is. His point form was nothing special. I think he won his point-to-point in May and I’m not sure he has a pedigree that he’d be a Champion Hurdle favourite, so it’s a huge leap.

“When he came here my first impression was that he might have been worth half the money we paid for him, but that is true of half the horses that arrive here.

“Last year when he won (at Cheltenham) he was as fit as the hand of god, as they say. He was so fit there wasn’t a pick left on him, this year he has come back and could be 100 weight heavier.

“When I sent him to Ascot, I was worried going there with the size of him. Dan Skelton, who stood in for me on the day, remarked to Ruby (Walsh) that he’d never saddled a horse as fat as that for a big race. If he can do that with that amount of condition on him there must be huge improvement in him .

“The day we bought Faugheen we were looking at a novice chasing career. Whether he’ll jump a fence now or not I don’t know, that will depend on his next two runs. I wouldn’t have dreamt about Champion Hurdles when we bought him, though.

“It’s extraordinary the progress he has made.”

Faugheen’s Kempton opponents include the Paul Nicholls-trained Fighting Fifth Hurdle winner Irving and Nicky Henderson’s Sign Of A Victory.

Blue Heron, Purple Bay and Sgt Reckless complete the field, with Hint Of Mint the only withdrawal at the declaration stage.

Irving was one of last season's leading novice hurdlers before disappointing behind Faugheen's stable companion Vautour in the Supreme at Cheltenham and he suffered a heavy fall on his return to action in the Elite Hurdle at Wincanton.

The six-year-old got his career back on track with a stylish display at Newcastle, however, and Nicholls is keen to find out whether he is up to Champion Hurdle class.

He said: “It was a great result at Newcastle. He was unlucky at Wincanton when he fell at the last and he needed that run that day. He will improve and will improve again. He has loads of speed and the best is yet to come. He (Faugheen) is obviously very good and he’s the one to beat. It is a challenge and we’ll see.

“It will tell us whether Irving is a Champion Hurdle horse or not.”

Sign Of A Victory oozed class when making a winning reappearance in an Ascot handicap and steps up to the highest level, having sidestepped The Ladbroke at Ascot last weekend on account of the testing conditions.

Owner Matt Morgan said: “He worked on Saturday and Nicky said he was absolutely brilliant.

“We might only be running for place money but he’s barely been off the bridle in his life and we’re really keen to see what happens when he does.

“Having missed The Ladbroke, if we don’t run here there’s nothing else for him and after this we’ll know if he’s running on Friday at Cheltenham (County Hurdle) or on Tuesday (Champion Hurdle).

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