Fantastic Faugheen ushers in new era

In delivering a third Champion Hurdle crown to the Closutton residence of trainer Willie Mullins, Faugheen silenced the doubters with a display of authority which established him as the leading hurdler in these isles — a position the unbeaten seven-year-old promises to command for a considerable period.

Reacting to the earlier victories of stable companions Douvan and Un De Sceaux and fearful of a blackout, bookmakers sent him off the 4-5 favourite to extend his unbeaten record to nine races under rules.

And the gelding, answering all questions, delivered under a typically confident and well-judged ride from Ruby Walsh.

All went smoothly from the outset, Walsh being allowed to dictate his own pace. Jumping had been put forward as Faugheen’s Achilles heel but for much of this race he was his rivals’ superior in that department.

To keep matters interesting for connections and supporters, however, an awkward leap at the second last opened the door to The New One and Jezki. It halted Faugheen’s momentum momentarily but that was the sole aberration in an otherwise exemplary round, and when Walsh asked his mount to go and win his race, he quickened away impressively.

An accomplished leap at the last and eager response to Walsh’s urgings carried Faugheen up the straight comfortably clear of stable companions Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly to give Mullins a history-making 1-2-3.

In becoming the first trainer to record such a remarkable feat, the elated winning handler said: “I’ll leave it for other people to decide if it’s my greatest achievement, but it would have to be right up there, along with some fantastic days at Punchestown, riding a winner here and winning a Grand National.

“Faugheen was just awesome today and we know he’s still improving. Ruby told me about a month ago what he was going to do, and how he was going to do it — and he did it.

“We looked at the race and we thought no-one probably wanted to make it, and Ruby just thought it might be the thing to do. I was happy once he was happy to do it. I wasn’t concerned at any stage, I thought he was well in control all the time.”

The winning rider confirmed the best-laid plan: “I had it in my head for some time that I would make the running, to set my own fractions. He jumped really well, bar the second last, but he has a super turn of foot, he quickened up really well, and put the race to bed.

“When Jezki and The New One came up beside me, they didn’t go by me. He was straight back on to it, and away with him. He’s just a very, very good horse, with a mighty engine.”

The future looks as bright as the present for the gelding, and he’s likely to remain over the smaller obstacles, explained his trainer, who believes he has plenty to achieve to emulate two-time Champion Hurdle winning stable companion Hurricane Fly.

“He’s young, he’s improving, he’s coming on, but he’s got a long way to go to be as good as Hurricane Fly,” said Mullins. “He probably won’t jump a fence. When you’ve got a hurdler as good as he is, there’s no reason to go novice chasing.”

with that in mind, the bookmakers have quoted him at 6-4 to retain his crown in 2016.

Mullins is also expecting more from runner-up Arctic Fire: “He is a horse we know is improving, and I don’t think I still have him fit yet, which is incredible, but I still can’t see a rib on him.”

Of the gallant third-placed finisher, Hurricane Fly, competing in the race for the fifth time, Mullins added: “He ran a terrific race. I thought he was going to get right into it at the second last. I was happy how he ran — no disgrace.”

There was to be no fairytale final Champion Hurdle for AP McCoy, who was aboard reigning champ Jezki. Having been keen throughout, he faded to finish just out of the frame.

Trainer Jessica Harrington, who accepted defeat magnanimously, reported the retiring rider to have blamed himself for his finishing position.

“AP was blaming himself, saying he took on Faugheen at the top of the hill and, in chasing the winner, it probably cost him second or third,” said Harrington. “He got to the winner’s quarters and he (Faugheen) just took off. If he had ridden him to be second to Faugheen he may have been second.

“We’ll go back to the drawing board and see how he comes home. There’s Punchestown, and he doesn’t have to travel for that, which is great. It’s amazing that Willie Mullins has trained the first three, but it just shows how hard it is to win any race in Ireland.”

Sam Twiston-Davies, rider of leading British hope The New One, reported: “I don’t really think he was himself, and hopefully we can get him a lot better. He was awkward and not an easy ride — that’s not like him. I thought if I threw him at the second-last he might power round the bend, but he didn’t produce anything, which makes you think he wasn’t quite right.”

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