Kilbricken can storm past sentimental stories in Stayers Hurdle
Faugheen bids to make history by recording a Champion-Stayers double
Kilbricken Storm won last year’s Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham over three miles on soft ground last year. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Cheltenham is no stranger to sentiment and there will be plenty of it about for Thursday’s Sun Racing Stayers Hurdle.
From an Irish viewpoint a win for Faugheen would be a fairytale result to rank with modern day comeback epics such as Sprinter Sacre’s 2016 Champion Chase victory.
“The Machine” isn’t what he was in his 2015 Champion Hurdle winning pomp. Then he stood comparison with any of the great hurdlers. But time waits for no one and at 11 he will be the oldest of the 18 runners lining up for the Day Three championship feature.
It won’t be just Irish fingers kept firmly crossed that Faugheen has a final glorious festival effort left in him. There’s history beckoning too as no horse has ever won both the Champion and the Stayers.
That Faugheen’s principal rival is generally felt to be Paisley Park only adds to the sense of drama.
His owner Andrew Gemmell has captured the public imagination on the run-in to the race. The story of the former trade union official who has been blind since birth, and whose fascination with racing was born out of listening to radio commentaries as a child, is impossible not to warm to.
Almost as much attention will be on Gemmell, and friends relaying the race’s progress to him, as on Paisley Park himself.
There’s nothing sentimental though about Paisley Park’s chance of a famous win. The Emma Lavelle-trained star has been both progressive and prolific this season, is proven over the course, and unlike Faugheen could still be on the upgrade.
Whether that will be enough to beat Faugheen is another matter. Writing off Willie Mullins’s superstar has been a dangerous exercise in the past. Retirement beckoned for him last season until a step up to three miles at Punchestown rekindled the glory days once again.
A return to two miles last November didn’t work out while his only other run this season saw Faugheen take a crashing fall two out at Leopardstown over Christmas behind Apple’s Jade.
How he might have finished out the race will never be known. But that he got up from such a heavy fall was enough of a result at the time. Faugheen will be accompanied by three Willie Mullins stable companions but none will have the emotional resonance of the old-stager.
However three miles on testing ground conditions around Cheltenham is a test that can make emotion superfluous. It can also make value a vital element in punting considerations. Kilbricken Storm’s back-story can’t compare to his two better-known rivals. But that may not stop him winning.
The Stayers is an improvised target for a horse that was sent novice chasing earlier this season and plainly didn’t think much of the idea. He narrowly won on his debut, got hammered subsequently and trainer Colin Tizzard quickly took the hint.
Kilbricken Storm has won both his course starts over three miles on soft ground, including last season’s Albert Bartlett. That was a race in which Paisley Park finished a tailed off last. Directly behind were Santini and the ill-fated Ballyward. It’s form to make 12-1 odds look tempting now.
Supasundae bids to go one better than his second to Penhill in the race a year ago and if managing it will complete trainer Jessica Harrington’s collection of Cheltenham’s major championship events.
There’s no doubting his quality. This is a horse capable of winning a pair of Champion Hurdles over two miles at Punchestown and Leopardstown last season. It’s a profile to make one wonder how he might have fared in Tuesday’s Champion Hurdle itself.
Whether a gluey three miles is what he ideally wants might be debatable. But it’s a potentially perfect scenario for Kilbricken Storm.