Faugheen leads Willie Mullins’s three-pronged attack on Champion Hurdle
Five Irish-trained horses in line for opening day feature at Cheltenham
Faugheen on the gallops at Willie Mullins’s yard at Closesutton in Bagenalstown, Co Carlow. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Faugheen will lead Willie Mullins’s three-pronged assault on the Champion Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival next Tuesday after the eight runners were revealed on Tuesday.
The seven-year-old has been installed as the 11-10 favourite with the majority of the big bookmakers, with Nigel Twiston Davies’s The New One second favourite at a general price of 3-1.
Last year’s winner Jezki, from the Jessica Harrington yard, is available at between 9-2 and 5-1, with Mullins’s Hurricane Fly at 7-1 or better.
In total there are five Irish-trained runner, with Mullins also entering Artic Fire, while Edward O’Grady has entered the unbeaten Kitten Rock (25-1).
The field is made up by Nicky Henderson’s Vaniteux and Dan Skelton’s Bertimont.
O’Grady has decided that Noel Fehily will partner Kitten Rock in the race.
Mark Walsh steered the JP McManus-owned five-year-old to a hat-trick of victories this season, but the jockey suffered a broken arm in a fall at Thurles last week.
Fehily’s agent Chris Broad said: “Noel’s been booked to ride him. There are only eight runners in the race and he’s a nice ride to get.”
Kitten Rock was a runaway winner of the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran Park last month, but will be a big outsider for the main event on the opening day.
Trainer Edward O’Grady said: “The plan is to run and he seems in very good form. I’m happy with him and he’s in good shape.”
Mullins has taken out Annie Power and Un De Sceaux from the Champion Hurdle field as they have alternative engagements in the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle and the Arkle respectively.
Garde Le Victoire, Irving, Plinth, Purple Bay, Sign Of A Victory and Tiger Roll were also removed from the reckoning.
Annie Power is among 20 remaining entries for the Mares’ Hurdle.
For only the second time since its inception in 2008, Quevega will not be lining up after she created history winning six in a row 12 months ago.
In her retirement, Mullins appears to have a ready-made replacement in Annie Power, second in the World Hurdle last season.
Mullins is also likely to run Glens Melody, narrowly beaten by Quevega last year, while he has also left in Analifet.
Leading the British charge is Henderson’s Polly Peachum, with Harry Fry having left in Bitofapuzzle – although the Dorset handler has repeatedly stated she will only run if the ground is soft.
Carole’s Spirit, Centasia, Little King Robin, L’Unique and her Alan King-trained stablemate The Pirate’s Queen all remain in the mix.
The Govaness, Swing Bowler, Hidden Identity, Dark Spirit and Emily Gray are others engaged.
Mullins’s hot favourite Un De Sceaux heads a list of 19 horses to stand their ground in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy.
A general 4-7 chance ahead of the race, Un De Sceaux has not scared off many rivals, with the likes of Paul Nicholls’s Vibrato Valtat, the Nicky Henderson-trained Josses Hill and Gordon Elliott’s Clarcam still in the mix.
Mullins has extra strings to his bow in Vautour and Adriana Des Mottes, while Mick Channon’s Sgt Reckless is another of the leading home hopes.
Melodic Rendezvous finished seventh in the Champion Hurdle last year but may try his Festival luck over fences.
God’s Own was a Grade One winner at Punchestown last May and may bid to add a Festival win to his CV.
Chris Pea Green, Cold March, Court Minstrel, Dunraven Storm, Sail By The Sea, Smashing, Ted Veale, Three Kingdoms, Top Gamble and Turn Over Sivola are also still in the mix.
Mullins’s Douvan spearheads a potential 17-strong field for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
The five-year-old has excelled in two starts since his transfer from France, having won with ease at Gowran before claiming Grade Two honours at Punchestown in January.
Mullins could also be represented by Alvisio Ville, McKinley, Nichols Canyon, Outlander, Shaneshill and Tell Us More.
Just behind Douvan in the betting is the Henderson-trained L’Ami Serge and Harry Fry’s Jollyallan, and they, too, have stood firm at the confirmation stage.
Seedling and Qewy are quietly fancied by some and are likely to represent Warren Greatrex and John Ferguson respectively.
Irish interest is also spiked by the presence of two Tony Martin runners, Okotoks and Velvet Maker, Bentelimar from Shay Barry’s yard and the Henry de Bromhead-trained Sizing John.
Aso and Some Plan complete the list at this stage.