Faugheen the machine storms to victory on Punchestown return
Willie Mullins’ star thrashes field in Morgiana Hurdle after 665 days on the sidelines
Faugheen romped to victory on his return from injury. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA
Celtic’s Mikael Lustig celebrates after Sweden qualified for the World Cup. Photograph: Marco Bertorello/AFP
Faugheen is once again at the head of the ante-post market on the Champion Hurdle after an impressive return to action in the Unibet Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle hero could not have been more convincing in the Grade One contest, on what was his eagerly-awaited comeback after 665 days on the sidelines, having last been seen winning the Irish Champion Hurdle in January, 2016.
Paul Townend, deputising on Willie Mullins’ star for the injured Ruby Walsh, let Faugheen bowl along in front and once he asked him to go and put the race to bed, the 4-9 favourite fairly sprinted clear.
Jezki, another former Champion Hurdle victor, was a distant second. Campeador fell at the last when well out of contention.
Faugheen was cut to 5-2 market leader from 5-1 for the two-mile championship at Cheltenham in March by Paddy Power, with RaceBets and Betfair going 11-4 from 5-1.
Mullins said: “It was very good. The horse did all the talking today. I’ve been talking up to now and you’ve all seen what I was saying.
“I don’t know what I want to do now, I’m just happy to get today over with. We’ll go home and hopefully he’ll be all right in the morning.
“Paul was very happy with him. He said he moved up through the gears, he took a big jump at the last one down the back. He was all wrong, stood back, let fly and landed with his hind legs on top of it but it didn’t take a thing out of him.
Tons in the tank
“He took a blow after the second-last, but as soon as he had that blow he motored on again. He said he had tons in the tank going down to the last and he was going too fast at the last and fiddled out over it.
“He did it well and he didn’t win by just hanging on. He was having his first run of the year against three horses that are super-fit from running. He just jumped out and took the race from them.
“The race was set up for anyone of those, fit from summer racing. Discussing it with Ruby and Paul beforehand both of them felt the horse was good enough to do that and if he got tired or needed the race, so be it.
“We were going to go out and bring the race to them. We were hoping we had the class and he showed today he did.”
He went on: “He was ready just after Punchestown (in the spring) so it’s nice to get out on the track and let everyone see that we weren’t talking absolute and utter rubbish! You get the feeling sometimes that people don’t believe and that you are just saying things.
“That’s the way he’s been. He was like that last May and in early June he could have come and put in a performance better than that I’d say, as he was readier.
“We had to let him down and build him back up again. He’s been very good at home and we haven’t had any setbacks with him.
“Hopefully we won’t after today. Hopefully he’s fine in the morning, and over the next few days, and we’ll just prepare him for his next run.
“I have no plans and I’m just happy to get past today. We’ll go home and reflect on it and see what our best route is from here.”
Townend said: “He was deadly, unbelievable — he looks as good as ever.
“I wanted to keep it simple, I thought I was on the best horse and the best way to get him beat was to complicate it. It worked out — he’s a very, very good horse. He’s the real deal.”
Jezki’s trainer Jessica Harrington said: “The winner is just a different class and is a great horse, it’s great to see him back.
“Our lad is in good form and ran well. We’ll probably up him in trip at Christmas.”
Earlier Woodland Opera floored hot favourite Tombstone to claim Grade Two honours in the Ryans Cleaning Craddockstown Novice Chase.
Jessica Harrington’s 11-2 outsider of four shadowed the pace-setting Calino d’Airy for most of the two-mile journey, before pressing him hard before the third-last fence.
Tombstone came with a strong challenge, but the 10-11 market leader was half a length behind the Robbie Power-ridden winner at the line.
“It’s great as there are a lot of the Coopers (owners) here today,” said Harrington. “I probably got his trip right for the winter ground. I don’t think he gets any further than two miles on heavy ground.
“He does go on it, but I kept running him over two and a half and he doesn’t get it. Over the winter he’ll stick to any two-mile handicaps or whatever. We’ll probably find something for him over Christmas.
“It was lovely to be able to get into this race, because he’s rated 150 or something rather scary like that.
“It’s great to get him back to winning ways and I think the trainer probably made a bit of a nonsense by running him over too far on soft ground.”
Power completed a quickfire big-race double on Jury Duty (6-1) in the Liam & Valerie Brennan Memorial Florida Pearl Novice Chase.
He produced Gordon Elliott’s six-year-old to head stable companion Shattered Love at the final fence and go on to score by three-quarters of a length.
Presenting Percy, the even-money favourite, was 12 lengths away in third after making a couple of errors at crucial stages of the race.
“That was a bit special as Ciaran (Collins), one of the boys that owns the horse, is very sick in hospital,” said Elliott. “Hopefully he was able to listen to the race and it’ll give him a bit of a lift.
“He went to school with Robert Power and was really good friends with him. It was a great day for him to win. It’s rough for the boys and on his family. He’s from Moynalvey and the boys have been with me almost from when I started training.
“They had a lot of bad ones and a few all right ones, but this lad is probably the best we’ve had (for them).
“To be honest I didn’t care about the result once I won it, but I was cheering for the winner.”
He added: “That was his Gold Cup and if he never wins again it doesn’t matter.
“He’s not a bad horse and could be an Irish National horse.”