Mullins alters trip for Vautour and Faugheen

Surprise move unlikely to shake punters’ belief in champion trainer’s festival savvy

Willie Mullins has already thrown a festival curve ball with unexpected distance switches for his Cheltenham festival-winning novices Vautour and Faugheen, but those backing the latter today do so secure in the knowledge that the champion trainer knows what he's doing around Punchestown.

Twice before, in 2009 and 2010, Mullins saddled a dozen winners in the week. But he even left that tally behind last year with a record-breaking 13 winners. He is unbackable to be crowned top trainer again, and with a massive share of the €2.5 million festival prize money pot into the bargain.

With Hurricane Fly, Quevega and a huge collection of other star names getting tuned up, the 100,000-plus attendance over the next five days can look forward to cheering on Mullins and his top jockey Ruby Walsh who again look like being the central Punchestown players.

So even though the shortest Faugheen has run over in four unbeaten hurdles starts to date is two-and-a-half miles, the fact he lines up over the minimum trip in today's Herald Champion Novice Hurdle is unlikely to dissuade many from piling in on him.

Faugheen's ideal trip
The six-year-old crowned an already huge reputation with a resounding Neptune victory at Cheltenham last month but Mullins appears to have no worries about taking Faugheen back in trip and putting the Supreme hero Vautour up for Friday's two-and-a-half mile Grade One in what appear to be exploratory tasks with next season in mind.


“He [Faugheen] is possibly good enough to come back to two miles because he can go a gallop and maybe he’d be better jumping over two miles,” he reported. “He doesn’t strike me as a Champion Hurdle horse, but they are things we’ll have to decide.”

Mullins should certainly know where he stands with today’s opposition in form terms as the English raiders Sgt Reckless and The Liquidator, as well as Western Boy and his own Valseur Lido all finished behind Vautour in the Supreme.

The Walsh-ridden Djakadam leads a Mulllins trio into the Grade One Growise Novice Chase, an all-domestic affair despite evidence from Cheltenham and Aintree that the top cross-channel novices may hold an edge over their Irish rivals this season.

Djakadam fell four out in the JLT at Cheltenham so didn’t get a chance to prove himself and it looks significant Walsh picks him over Ballycasey and Mozoltov.

What's likely to be a recurring theme throughout the week, with less than €150,000 in prize money between them, is the battle of the owners championship between JP McManus and Michael O'Leary's Gigginstown Stud team and Don Cossack will be the Gigginstown number one here.

McManus’s hope is Carlingford Lough whose jumping didn’t impress in the RSA at Cheltenham but kept on well enough to finish on the heels of Morning Assembly who did best of the Irish on that occasion in third. Carlingford Lough’s jumping lapses were surprising considering how he has successfully mixed it in handicap company and he also managed to beat Morning Assembly in Leopardstown’s Christmas Grade One. Back on home ground, and on a sound surface, he can secure a second top-flight prize of the season.

Ruby Walsh is on board the inexperienced Lucky Bridle in the handicap hurdle but it is another novice, Sea Beat, who could be the one to be on at the bottom of the weights.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

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