Saturday 24 March 2018

Faugheen confirms superstar status in the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle

Faugheen ridden by Ruby Walsh races clear of the last on the way to winning the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle during day one of the Punchestown Festival
Faugheen ridden by Ruby Walsh races clear of the last on the way to winning the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle during day one of the Punchestown Festival

Faugheen's performance in Punchestown's Herald Champion Novice Hurdle was of such transparent quality that trainer Willie Mullins may have been prompted into a change of plan.

After taking his unbeaten record to six in the Neptune at Cheltenham, Ireland's all-conquering trainer had suggested he was more likely to be sent over fences next season, as he already has Vautour, Un De Sceaux and possibly the veteran Hurricane Fly for the Champion Hurdle.

Faugheen was dropping back to two miles here as he was replacing a delayed Vautour and it had a staggering effect with Ruby Walsh already patting the 1-2 favourite down the neck after the final flight with a Grade One field utterly demolished.

Twelve lengths behind was stablemate Valseur Lido, and he is already as short as 5-1 co-favourite for the Champion with Paddy Power (7s with Boylesports and RaceBets).

"Vautour failed a late fitness test, he wasn't right at the time of declaration, hopefully he'll be all right to run later in the week," said Mullins.

"On that ground, I thought that was very, very good. We won't make any decisions on him but you would have to consider staying hurdling next season.

"This trip is good enough. He's a keen horse who likes to get on with the job."

Mullins had admitted at Cheltenham that emphatic Supreme winner Vautour was a class apart from Faugheen and nodded when asked if he was still of the same opinion, saying: "I think Vautour would have done that and better. This fellow was sloppy at one or two of them, but Vautour wouldn't have done that - he'd have been over them and gone."

Owner Rich Ricci, who has the pair as well as Annie Power, said: "He's a superstar, isn't he? He's a (Champion) contender, but we'll have to think over the summer about what to do with our good novices."

Tony McCoy hit the Grade One target with a fine ride on Carlingford Lough in the Growise Champion Novice Chase.

Morning Assembly (7-4 favourite) and Don Cossack cut out much of the running, with the former taking a half-length advantage three from home.

Walsh arrived on the scene two out with Ballycasey seemingly full of running, but McCoy switched the John Kiely-trained Carlingford Lough to the inner and joined issue at the last, where Morning Assembly's chance was ended by a bad mistake.

McCoy's JP McManus-owned mount got away from it the better and with his rider in full flight, Carlingford Lough, winner of last year's Galway Plate and successful at the top level at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting, stayed on strongly for a four-and-a-quarter-length triumph.

Kiely said: "The ground was perfect for him today, and we will see how he does next year. Next year will tell us a lot and he will be going for those conditions races."

Forgotten Rules put up an astonishing performance to take the Finlay Motor Group INH Flat Race for Dermot Weld.

Ridden by Robbie McNamara, the four-year-old travelled with immense ease and cruised to the head of affairs rounding the turn for home.

McNamara could afford the luxury of a look round at the furlong pole and sauntered clear from there as the even-money favourite accounted for the well-touted Alamein by 13 lengths.

Weld, who sent out Silver Concorde to win the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, said: "He's a very nice horse, but a baby.

"It's one day at a time, but he's a stayer with speed and that's what I enjoy training."

Very Much So was a 12-1 chance for the Goffs Land Rover Bumper despite being Mullins' only runner and those that were not put off by jockey bookings were rewarded with three-quarter length success over Snow Falcon.

Patrick Mullins never featured on the Nicky Henderson-trained favourite Native Display, and at the business end young Johnny Burke did a fine job in getting the four-year-old home under hands and heels.

Burke said: "I've been riding out for Willie for some time, my dad is well known in racing and it's great to get a winner at the Festival.

"Going professional is something I'd like to think about at the end of this Festival."

Mullins said: "He wasn't high in our estimation for the bumper but we knew he was improving.

"I said to Johnny if he doesn't get a break, ride your own race. He kept him balanced and kept him going."

Exactly 12 months ago Henderson had brought Punchestown to a standstill with the arrival of Sprinter Sacre and the Lambourn trainer popped up with the 9-1 winner of the Handicap Hurdle in Cool Macavity.

"He's a sweet little horse and he needs fast ground," he said.

"He could go for the Swinton but Barry (Geraghty) is suspended then and he thinks he's a Galway Hurdle horse."

There was a familiar result to the Kildare Hunt Club Fr Sean Breen Memorial Chase as smart young prospect 3-1 favourite Be Positive took it for the combination of McManus, Nina Carberry and Enda Bolger.

Banks race specialist Bolger was winning it for the fourth time in the last five renewals, and also supplied 11-length runner-up Phar And Away.

"He's in on Saturday as well, and we might go again," he said.

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