Faugheen’s lack of acclaim is no reflection on a rare talent
Willie Mullins has all but scoffed at the idea of the horse being superior to Vautour
Faugheen: “A rather plain-looking ex-pointer, who has yet to fully capture the public imagination.” Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
He’s a near-unbackable favourite to take his unbeaten career record to a perfect 10 out of 10 at Punchestown today and yet an argument can be made that Faugheen remains racing’s most unappreciated champion.
It’s not an uncommon phenomenon in sport. Garrincha is fated forever to be in Pele’s shadow despite many Brazilians’ belief the little man was superior, just as Larry Holmes famously seethed at not getting his due just because he took the heavyweight crown immediately after Ali.
Faugheen comes to the €200,000 Queally Group Champion Hurdle on the back of a brilliant Cheltenham success that may not have actually shown the full range of his talents but which ordinarily would have him as the festival’s headline act.
It’s his lot, however, to be part of a Willie Mullins team packed with stars, containing the legend that is Hurricane Fly, Douvan’s ‘could-be-anything’ potential, as well as Faugheen’s spectacular contemporary Vautour, who appears to be the apple of his trainer’s eye.
Not many trainers have landed a Champion Hurdle and yet rated a novice chase victory a couple of days later as their highlight of Cheltenham week.
Even after both horses won their novice events at Cheltenham 2014, Mullins all but scoffed at the idea of Faugheen being superior to Vautour.
Faugheen could be forgiven for feeling cold-shouldered by comparison but the fact is this rather plain-looking ex-pointer, who has yet to fully capture the public imagination, remains officially the top-rated horse Mullins has and possesses the potential to become one of the all-time great champion hurdlers.
Since the start of the National Hunt classifications, only Istabraq (176) and Hurricane Fly (175) at their best have been rated superior Champion Hurdle winners – so far.
Exceed Istabraq’s mark
“It’s very possible he can get even better.
“He’s an unusual horse in that he can make mistakes but they appear to make no difference to him. What makes him stand out though is his range. He started out at three miles, won a two-and-a-half mile novice championship last year, and was novice champion at two miles here at Punchestown.
“Kauto Star is probably the best chaser we’ve seen since Arkle because he was able to win Grade Ones at two, two-and-a-half and three miles. The great horses have that sort of range. Faugheen is definitely one of those.”
As endorsements go, that’s impressive. So while there will only be a handful of starters in today’s feature, it looks a timely opportunity to appreciate a rare talent.