Faugheen puts in a display for the ages at Leopardstown

Douvan also impresses as Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh seal big-race double

Faugheen was acclaimed "a great champion", and officially rated superior to his former stable companion Hurricane Fly, after a display for the ages at Leopardstown yesterday.

Over an hour after another Willie Mullins-trained star, Douvan, indicated colossal potential with a third victory over fences, Faugheen provided a stunning 15-length BHP Irish Champion Hurdle performance that was a thrilling illustration of the real championship deal.

It leaves him as short as 1-3 to successfully defend his Champion Hurdle title at Cheltenham in seven weeks’ time and had some observers scrambling for comparisons to racing’s all-time greats.

The only horse ever to beat Faugheen in his dozen previous races, Nichols Canyon, slugged it out with the winner from the start. Yet when that rival cried enough at the second last, Faugheen and Ruby Walsh were able to overcome a final-flight blunder and still cruise clear of Arctic Fire with seemingly plenty in reserve.



It completed a widely anticipated Mullins 1-2-3 in the €110,000 feature, but not even Faugheen’s greatest fan could have anticipated the aplomb with which the 3-10 favourite led home the champion trainer’s latest Grade 1 clean-sweep.

There are plans for the retired Hurricane Fly – the five-time winner who paraded before the big race – to be immortalised in bronze at Leopardstown, but it was another great former champion, Istabraq, to whom the National Hunt senior handicapper Noel O’Brien compared Faugheen.

“My initial reaction is to raise Faugheen to a rating of 176, equal to Istabraq, and above Hurricane Fly. And that’s a minimum rating even though it’s equal to any horse in modern times. He might exceed it yet,” O’Brien said.

“We’ve seen a great champion who got the opportunity off a strong pace to show just how good he is,” he added.

Sixth win

Walsh equalled Istabraq's rider Charlie Swan with a sixth win in Ireland's most prestigious hurdle, and it was a sixth success in a row for Mullins, who had a short-priced four-timer on the day, and described Faugheen's performance as "electrifying".

Earlier the trainer was moved to describe Douvan as “a different species” after his American owner Rich Ricci’s colours were also carried to Grade 1 success in the Ward Solicitors Arkle Chase.

Un De Sceaux, successful at Ascot on Saturday, won the same race en route to Cheltenham success in 2015, but even the odds-on favourite for this season’s Champion Chase hasn’t got the plaudits the Mullins camp is giving Douvan.

Ricci also had his colours carried by Faugheen but said of Douvan: “With another summer on his back he could be anything. He looks to be the horse with the most potential we’ve ever had.”

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column