Faugheen bursts out of ‘last chance saloon’ with epic victory
Footpad puts in another faultless jumping display in Ryanair Novice Chase
David Mullins on his way to winning the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle with Faugheen at Punchestown. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Human dynamics dominated the first half of Punchestown’s festival but nothing could budge Faugheen’s great escape from the “last chance saloon” as Thursday’s big story.
The horse tagged ‘The Machine’ had looked a stuttering shadow of his glorious Champion Hurdle-winning pomp since pulled up at Leopardstown over Christmas.
Another lacklustre performance at Cheltenham’s Champion Hurdle indicated a great horse succumbing to the ravages of time and a spectacularly underwhelming piece of work last week did nothing to persuade Willie Mullins he hadn’t a busted championship flush on his hands.
So no one was more surprised than him at the transformed performance Faugheen put up on a first start at three miles since his novice days in the Ladbrokes Stayers Hurdle.
Bounced straight to the lead by David Mullins, Faugheen thrived over the longer distance and by the straight had his Cheltenham Stayers-winning stable companion Penhill in trouble.
At the line Faugheen (11-2) had 13 lengths in hand of the 2-1 favourite with Shaneshill completing another Mullins big-race 1-2-3 this week.
The result, allied to Footpad’s Grade One Ryanair Chase romp, and a handicap chase success for Cadmium, put Mullins €424,148 clear of Gordon Elliott in the trainers’ championship with one firm already paying out on that outcome.
But the warmth of the reception for Faugheen testified to the place he’d quarried out in public hearts. And since there’s nothing like a redemptive touch to warm the cockles this result has no doubt burrowed the veteran superstar into affections even further.
“He worked the other morning and I don’t know how slow he was. Ruby [Walsh] was with me on the gallops and we looked at each other and said that’s him gone.
“You always take a chance and run, and hope on the day maybe good weather and a nice bit of grass underneath will bring him back to life. But this was going to be a last chance saloon. If he’d finished down the field today we probably would have said it was time to retire – but it didn’t happen!” said Willie Mullins.
“He was just fed up going that two mile gallop and when he got things his own way here he started to enjoy it.”
Mullins’s nephew David famously ended Faugheen’s unbeaten record here on Nichols Canyon in the 2015 Morgiana and no one was more thrilled at the outcome.
“Faugheen for me – and I’ve not been racing that long – is the best horse I’ve ever seen on his day. It just took three miles and a bit of give in the ground for him to show it. I was doing a hack canter the whole way,” beamed the jockey who 24 hours earlier won the Gold Cup on Bellshill.
This was no glorious last hurrah however. Even with sentiment coursing around the place, Willie Mullins is already contemplating giving the ten year old a late transfer to fences next season.
“Three-mile hurdling is very hard on a horse and do we want to subject him to that on heavy ground – I’d rather go novice chasing as it might be easier,” he said.
Whatever Faugheen might do over a fence he is unlikely to better Footpad’s technique over the bigger obstacles. The Arkle hero duly completed a faultless novice campaign as a 2-5 favourite for the Ryanair Chase.
Daryl Jacob took over from the injured Ruby Walsh and had an armchair spin in front. All five of Footpad’s wins this season have been at the minimum trip but significantly looking to next term Mullins said: “It will depend on what connections want to do but this fella could easily go out in trip.
“He didn’t run at Aintree as I had to give him a little break. I didn’t dream he would improve that much. That was some performance and probably better than Cheltenham I thought.
“He has a great [jumping] technique. I thought he jumped much bigger and I was wondering if he was losing too much ground in the air. But he was so well in himself and he was spring-heeled over everything.”
Mullins has won over €1.2 million in prizemoney already this week and is well on the way to beating his 2015 record of 16 Punchestown festival winners.
He saddled Cadmium to win a handicap chase while Elliott’s sole response was Park Paddocks’ win in the first race.
JP McManus and Enda Bolger combined for a 1-2 in the La Touche Cup over the banks but their victory was coloured when the fifth, Cantlow, collapsed and died after the four-mile event.
McManus was also successful with the 7-1 shot A Great View in the handicap hurdle.