It is easy to forget that although Kauto Star is the owner of two big records over longer distances – five King George victories and the only horse to retain the Cheltenham Gold Cup – he was previously almost as devastating over the minimum 2m trip.
Two victories in the Tingle Creek may not see him remembered as one of the greats over this trip despite its Grade 1 status, but the fact that he was sent off at 2/1 to win a Champion Chase is not something that should be demoted.
Horses that have the speed to win over 2m and the stamina to triumph over 3m+ at Grade 1 level are in short supply, but Faugheen appears another capable of falling into this category, albeit over hurdles rather than fences.
‘Faugheen the Machine’ is a nickname that already threatens to take off, after Willie Mullins’ seven-year-old extended his unbeaten record to eight over hurdles when winning the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.
It is no surprise to see him installed as the 6/4 favourite to retain his crown in 2016, but given the embarrassment of riches in the Mullins yard, especially those under the ownership of Rich Ricci, it is no foregone conclusion he will remain over the 2m trip.
Not that Faugheen was all out to win the Champion Hurdle, but Douvan, another horse from the Ricci/Mullins partnership, landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham over the same course and distance in a time over three seconds quicker.
This is the same Douvan that has the experience of only five hurdles starts.
The question now is whether Douvan will stay hurdling and prepare for the Champion Hurdle in 2016 or go novice chasing and be highly fancied for the Arkle at the next Cheltenham Festival?
If Mullins wants to have a crack at all of the big Grade 1 contests in two years’ time, the answer has to be keeping him over hurdles.
Vautour has been earmarked as a future Cheltenham Gold Cup winner and has Don Poli has a main rival, while Un De Sceaux looks to have the world at his feet in the 2m division and will be a heavy favourite for the next Champion Chase, with Champagne Fever a possible opponent.
It is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle where the chink in the armour lies. Annie Power is Mullins’ best option, but she arguably didn’t get home in 2014 and has unfinished business in the Mares’ Hurdle after falling at the last this year.
There is no reason why Faugheen couldn’t step up to 3m, especially as he is a previous winner over the trip on heavy ground at Limerick.
This would keep him and Douvan apart so that the Ricci/Mullins partnership has strong hands in both championship hurdles at Cheltenham and would also allow Faugheen the chance to truly live up to his nickname.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.
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