The reigning champion hurdler has questions to answer after surrendering his unbeaten record to stablemate Nichols Canyon on his reappearance in the Morgiana Hurdle, despite having soundly beaten his fellow Willie Mullins inmate in a gallop the week before.
While Faugheen is long odds-on to repeat his win of 12 months ago, he will have to bounce back from that unexpected defeat.
“Faugheen is good. Whether he did too much in his gallop beforehand or the tactics were wrong I’m not sure,” said Mullins.
“I don’t think Ruby (Walsh) was worried about Nichols Canyon after the bit of work so maybe it was the tactics, but it was pointless the two of them having a fight for the lead.
“On the day Ruby was happy to take a lead, but we probably didn’t realise how good the other fellow could be. We never dreamt he’d be flat, maybe he was. I wasn’t concerned that he hung, to me that’s what a tired horse did. As I said on the day, he had a sore mouth and that wasn’t why he hung.
“He had a bit of a mouth problem (after the Morgiana), but I wouldn’t worry about that.
“It will be interesting to see on his next couple of runs whether the form works out or not. Nichols Canyon could be improving.
“On a strict line in the book, you would have to think he was disappointing, but we’ll see.
“I’m hoping we’ll see the best of him at Kempton. He came out of Punchestown very well.
“He likes Kempton and I’m hoping he’s back to himself. He should be.”
Walsh felt he might have underestimated his stable companion but that there will be no excuses this time.
“I maybe didn’t show Nichols Canyon enough respect, maybe I went on homework but that can fool you,” Walsh said.
“When you get beat you always look for a reason, but who knows, by the end of Christmas Nichols Canyon may have won at Leopardstown and the form will look rock solid.
“If I have to make the running I will, all I want is a good, honest gallop.
“I rode him last week and he seems in really good form. Fingers crossed he’ll run his race.”
The New One was narrowly beaten in this race two years ago by My Tent Or Yours but will be without regular partner Sam Twiston-Davies.
Despite the horse being trained by his father, Nigel, the jockey rides Old Guard for his boss, Paul Nicholls.
“It was an impossible situation for Sam, really,” said Twiston-Davies, who has booked Noel Fehily.
“He’s not going there at 100 per cent as we’ve had a little hold up, but he is ready for a run.
“There are so few options for these good hurdlers, once we’d missed Cheltenham (International Hurdle) we had to come here.
“He’s been an incredible horse for us. He’s only lost six out of 21 and three of those have been at the Festival and one other in this race.
“He’s won over £600,000 and has done us proud, what more can you say?”
Old Guard has been a revelation this season, winning the Greatwood and the International and while it was not the original plan to run in this, Nicholls feels he is so well he has nothing to lose.
“He was so fresh after his run at Cheltenham and he came out of it so well,” Nicholls said.
“Sam (Twiston-Davies) schooled him on Tuesday and he was so fresh and well which surprised me as I thought he had a hard race.
“Sometimes when they are like that it is the time to run them rather than put them away.”
Nicky Henderson runs both Hargam, who was beaten by Old Guard last time out, and Sign Of A Victory, who won a Flat race on the all-weather when he was last seen.
“He’s fit and well after his run at Wolverhampton and that was just for something to do, really,” said owner Matt Morgan.
“We thought we’d run him rather than him standing in his box and if we have any designs of going for anything decent on the Flat, he needed a mark.
“The second came out and won, he’s got a mark now and Jamie Spencer jumped off and said he felt like a Northumberland Plate/Ebor type, but that he had enough boot to win over 10 furlongs.
“To have any of those designs he’d need to go up another 10lb or so but that’s an option.
“It would be nice to follow the Clever Cookie route.
“He wasn’t quite right when he ran in this last year and the ground went against him so we’re hoping the ground stays as it is, good to soft.”