Sport Horse Racing

Monday 29 May 2017

Mullins hints at epic Festival duel for Faugheen and Annie

Faugheen, with Ruby Walsh up, on the way to winning last year’s Irish Champion Hurdle – he’s due to have his first run since then in the same race this Sunday. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE
Faugheen, with Ruby Walsh up, on the way to winning last year’s Irish Champion Hurdle – he’s due to have his first run since then in the same race this Sunday. Picture credit: Brendan Moran / SPORTSFILE

Johnny Ward

The sceptics may not buy it but Willie Mullins, for the only time in his life publicly, has mooted the possibility of a Faugheen-Annie Power clash.

The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner and his successor have never taken each other on. Nor has either seen the furlong marker this season, the training great's eyes telling him that they were not quite at their best in practice each morning.

However, in issuing a particularly upbeat assessment of Annie Power's wellness at the launch of the BHP Insurances Irish Champion Hurdle, Mullins mentioned the unmentionable.

Politician-turned-broadcaster Ivan Yates embraced a somewhat aggressive line of questioning that, arguably, racing hacks too often shy away from in deference to a legendary interviewee. Annie Power, Yates claimed, had been the subject of rumours.

Pleasing

Mullins: "How do you mean?"

Yates: "Well you know, maybe she's not as pleasing as she should be?"

"Well," the Closutton handler replied, "I didn't hear that anyway. . . I heard rumours she was gone to stud, that she would never race again. Well she hasn't gone to stud anyway and she is in great form."

Yates then asked - "they won't take each other on at the Cotswolds, will they?" - and the response was seemingly what nobody expected.

Mullins said: "I don't know, if you had two Champion Hurdle horses what would you do? If you finished second in the Champion Hurdle, would we be thinking to ourselves, we might run the two of them?

"If you're lucky enough to have one Champion Hurdle horse, but then you have two. . . I don't know. They are both probably getting on in age. If she comes back to herself, lots of people say Faugheen should run in the (Stayers' Hurdle).

"I wonder coming out of Cheltenham if you finished second in the Champion Hurdle and won one of the other races with the other one, would you say, should we have. . . which would you rather?"

Getting to the business at hand, Mullins could not guarantee that the horse which everyone, except his rivals' connections, wants to witness on Sunday at Leopardstown would take part - but the vibes are strong.

"So far so good with Faugheen, we are looking forward to Sunday. He'll gallop tomorrow or Wednesday and I expect him to gallop well," he said.

"We have to see will he turn up. Coming back from injury, not having a run, it's very hard for a horse to run (to his mark if 176). I am hoping he will improve for the run but Petit Mouchoir might improve as well. When they improve, you don't know when they are going to stop improving.

"Nichols Canyon should be able to run. He disappointed at Christmas. We've changed a few things with him since. He is better than that, but I was very impressed with Petit Mouchoir. He looked to do it very easy."

Mullins also had interesting words to say about last Sunday's novice chase winner Yorkhill. Min, rather than Yorkhill, will tackle Sunday's Frank Ward Solicitors Irish Arkle, but Yorkhill may take a surprisingly different route next season.

He said: "When I asked Ruby (Walsh), he said he was happy (with Yorkhill). Looking at him yesterday, should he go back (in trip)? To me he's a Champion Hurdler in time.

"I didn't make up my mind until the last minute (to go chasing). If his jumping doesn't improve up in grade, I could go back hurdling in a flash. I'm surprised I even went novice chasing with him this year."

Options open - and so were many mouths at the Dublin venue of the launch as the champion trainer had everyone wondering. He added that Weatherbys Champion Bumper favourite Getabird would likely run on Thursday at Gowran.

Meanwhile, last Thursday's Kinloch Brae winner Sizing John is likely to step up to three miles for the first time in the Stan James Irish Gold Cup on February 12, according to the gelding's trainer Jessica Harrington.

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