Mullins keeps faith and eyes Morgiana bid for Faugheen
Willie Mullins' big guns are back in work as the champion trainer targets a comeback race for the superstar Faugheen, while Gordon Elliott says the enigmatic Labaik will run again.
The 2015 Cheltenham Champion Hurdle hero Faugheen has not been seen since January 2016 and, though it was expected that he would engage in combat last term, it never came to pass. He suffered a stress fracture in February.
Faugheen turns ten in January and, having remarkably only had one shot at the Champion Hurdle, Mullins will be frustrated if he cannot get to show what he is capable of this season. Annie Power, thriving in foal, is unable to deputise for him now.
Mullins told the Irish Independent: "Faugheen is back in full training, though we actually had him doing fast work before we threw him out in the field, after he was not ready for Punchestown. We kept him in the whole month of May."
Asked if we retained faith in Faugheen, he said: "Of course. Since we decided to let him off, he has come back in with a lot of condition. The Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November would be the aim. He is fit and well, he was unlucky last year."
Nichols Canyon, which missed a trip to the US due to injury after finishing second at Punchestown, is to be joined in the staying hurdling senior division by Penhill this season, while Mullins said he was especially looking forward to a clear run with Limini, "which has put on a big belly over the summer".
The big question regarding Yorkhill will be whether to go chasing or hurdling, though Mullins said that if Supreme Novice Hurdle runner-up Melon were to stay over the smaller obstacles, that would not colour the Yorkhill decision.
Yorkhill produced some extraordinary performances last season as a novice chaser, notably going down narrowly at Fairyhouse after jumping violently left at every fence. "Yorkhill is back riding out every day in good form, though we haven't made a decision on what we will do at this stage - we could go both ways. He is very difficult over fences and finds hurdling a lot easier.
"Melon has come back very strong, is in good form and, while he could go the novice chase route, we'd probably be angling towards a hurdling campaign. He was very inexperienced going to Cheltenham last year."
Melon chased home Labaik at Cheltenham and, while Labaik was seriously injured subsequently at Punchestown, having initially refused to race at its Festival, trainer Elliott said last evening: "He'll miss this season but is to go chasing afterwards."
Before that, Mullins expects to target the Betfred Ebor at York on Saturday week with Ivan Grozny and possibly Aussie Reigns. Mark Prescott has warned that his ante-post favourite Flymetothestars will only run if there is enough give in the ground.
Aidan O'Brien is to run Order Of St George at the Curragh on Saturday but waits on the weather for plans regarding Sunday's Deauville card, which is also a potential option for Mullins' brilliant Galway winner Renneti.
Coventry Stakes winner Rajasinghe has been ruled out of the Prix Morny at Deauville but could turn up at York. He has scoped dirty. Paddy Power go 10/11 the O'Brien-trained September in the Debutante Stakes on Sunday at Irish Flat headquarters, with stablemate Happily 15/8 and 10/1 others.