Half a furlong from home Ruby Walsh began stroking Faugheen’s neck as Willie Mullins’ gelding eased to a 12-length victory at Punchestown. Perhaps even further out than that, the trainer may have decided to keep the 6-year-old over hurdles next season.
In his first appearance since winning the Neptune Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham last month, Faugheen took on a quality Grade 1 field at an untried distance of 2m on the first day of the Punchestown Festival.
Holding a narrow advantage at the halfway point, the unbeaten horse made all in a supreme showing that proved he can not only stay but run at great speed too.
The run, which earned Mullins a one-two finish with Valseur Lido coming home behind Faugheen, saw Ladbrokes install Walsh’s ride as the joint-5/1 favourite for next year’s Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
Vautour, another string to the Mullins bow, joins Faugheen at the head of the ante-post betting along with Nicky Henderson’s My Tent Or Yours and The New One from Nigel Twiston-Davies’ yard.
Whether Mullins pits his two strongest hurdlers – Vautour claimed the Supreme Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham and only missed facing Faugheen yesterday after supposedly “failing a late fitness test” – remains to be seen.
Faugheen had been earmarked for a switch to fences next season but has forced the County Carlow handler to rethink that plan after his Punchestown heroics.
Instead it could be Vautour who makes the chasing change, as Mullins looks to spread his assets to maximum gain for the 2015 campaign.
Un De Sceaux, a third Mullins chance, is 7/1 in the ante-post Champion Hurdle betting and with trips to the English trials a rarity, the 58-year-old has a real job on his hands keeping the trio apart in 2015.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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