Willie Mullins, especially in recent years, tends to be a lot more forthright when it comes to judging his horses and his own decisions. If he has made a mistake, he will say so. And, if there are doubts over whether a horse can perform well or not, Mullins will say it out loud. The trainer has achieved almost everything there is to desire in national hunt racing, and one would argue that he feels no pressure to hype his chances of success. In short, if Mullins has something to say, it’s worth listening to him. And recently, Mullins has been talking a lot about Faugheen.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner has had a glorious career, and while there has been talk of decline and retirement ever since Faugheen failed to defend the Champion Hurdle in 2016, it’s worth noting that he has won a Grade 1 race every year since he exploded onto the scene at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival.
Faugheen lit up Boxing Day races
Of course, his latest Grade 1 victory came over fences, unfamiliar territory for a horse that will always be synonymous with modern hurdling. And, that’s where Mullins believes he made the mistake, with the Carlow-based trainer lamenting the fact that he did not send Faugheen chasing at least a year earlier.
Still, Faugheen seems to be making up for lost time fairly quickly, winning his chasing debut last November and then bringing the house down in Limerick on Boxing Day with a thrilling victory in the Grade 1 Greenmount Park Novices’ Chase. That victory, where Faugheen put Samcro to the sword, really set tongues wagging on the chances of Faugheen doing something as a 12yo chaser.
As we mentioned, Mullins will not oversell the chances of Faugheen. So, when he says things like, “He still looks to be able to put it up to the top ones and it’s extraordinary that he doesn’t seem to have lost his spark at this stage of his career. I’d say he was as good at home as he ever was in the last few weeks.” Punters should take that at face value.
Faugheen favourite for Marsh Novices’ Chase
The upshot of all this is that Faugheen has been made the favourite for the Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase – formerly the JLT Novices’ Chase – at the 2020 Festival. As you can bet on Cheltenham online with ease, it’s not difficult to find price fluctuations, but Faugheen is as high as 8/1 with Unibet and as low as 5/1 with Ladbrokes and Sky Bet. Others getting a mention include Fakir D’Oudairies 10/1, Samcro 12/1 and Champ 14/1.
Have bookies and punters jumped the gun too quickly on Faugheen? Are they backing the name rather than the evidence? One suspects the Dublin Festival next week, in which Faugheen is set to appear, will be pivotal to the betting markets surrounding the hugely popular horse. If Faugheen runs well at Leopardstown, then the odds will tumble. If not, then you will likely see a cooling of the market, and perhaps a decision by Mullins to use him elsewhere at the Festival. Faugheen has entries for the RSA Chase (16/1), the Stayers’ Hurdle (25/1) and National Hunt Chase (20/1).
But, as it stands, the Marsh Novices’ Chase seems to be the likely route. If all goes well in Dublin next weekend, it will be one of the most scrutinised races of the Festival. Even for Mullins’ incredibly successful operation, Faugheen was a once-in-a-generation horse. You can hear keen affection in the trainer’s voice when he talks about him, and the same could be said for Ruby Walsh when he rode “The Machine” in his peak years. That affection for Faugheen has also found a home in the Cheltenham crowds. There will be no more popular winner at Cheltenham 2020 than “The Machine”.