Veteran Faugheen could bring the house down with Grade One novice win

Kemboy primed to give Willie Mullins 11th Irish Gold Cup success at Leopardstown

Paul Townend onboard Sharjar comes home to win ahead of Ruby Walsh onboard Faugheen at Punchestown in 2018. Photograph: Peter Mooney/Inpho

Paul Townend onboard Sharjar comes home to win ahead of Ruby Walsh onboard Faugheen at Punchestown in 2018. Photograph: Peter Mooney/Inpho

 

Watering has been a persistent theme in the run-up to the third Dublin Racing Festival, although more than a few eyes might be less than dry at Leopardstown on Sunday should Faugheen succeed in rolling back the years once again.

At 12 years old, the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner is almost twice the age of most of his rivals in the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase.

Winning at the top level at such an age is rare but not unknown. Luminaries such as Florida Pearl and Sizing Europe managed it at the twilight of their superb careers over fences.

Doing it as a novice is unheard of but that’s what Faugheen will attempt and with immense popular goodwill helping him along.

The €250,000 Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup may be the centrepiece of the €2.1 million festival but none of its runners can come close to competing with “The Machine” in terms of sentiment.   

Unease

Such popularity is why Willie Mullins’s decision to try his veteran star at a new vocation over fences this season prompted some unease at first.

However, two starts over the larger obstacles appear to have rejuvenated a horse that looked a light of past glories with Faugheen securing a famous 10th Grade One success at Limerick over Christmas.

That was less than a week before his official 12th birthday. Now he is set to start favourite to put half a dozen striplings in their place including a trio of stable companions as well as Battleoverdoyen. The depth of support urging “The Machine” on is likely to be anything but mechanical.   

The test will take place on ground currently described as “yielding to soft” on all tracks at Leopardstown.

How conditions ride is sure to be focus of much attention given how quick ground conditions led to 22 non-runners on the same card a year ago, including half a dozen from the Irish Gold Cup itself.

Repeated calls by many prominent figures since Christmas to ensure safe ground has seen almost a fortnight of watering.

“The forecast is generally dry Friday to Saturday. There’s some rain coming in Sunday morning, not a huge volume, 2-3ml, clearing by 9.00 on Sunday morning,” Leopardstown’s clerk of the course, Lorcan Wyer, said on Friday.

Most surfaces seem to come alike to Faugheen although if sentiment doesn’t win out his stable companion Tornado Flyer might fill in given his last run can be ignored as he was found to have a respiratory infection.

Mullins has dominated the Irish Gold Cup like no other major event over the last two decades and is pursuing an 11th win in the race with a trio led by Kemboy.

He made early season headlines on the back of the controversy surrounding the now defunct Supreme Racing Club.

However after his first start of the season behind Delta Work at Christmas the proven course and distance winner looks the one to beat given anticipated improvement from that run.

Last year’s Flogas winner La Bague Au Roi takes her chance in the big race and is one of just a pair of cross-channel trained horses taking their chance on Sunday. 

Progressive

Neither of Gordon Elliott’s top novices, Envoi Allen and Abacadabras, have taken up the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle option, perhaps a reminder that for all the Dublin Racing Festival’s prizemoney it still mostly operates in terms of a trials date for Cheltenham.

Easywork steps into the breach for Elliott which means him dropping back half a mile from the Limerick contest he won so impressively over Christmas.

Mt Leinster was beaten by Easywork in a Gowran maiden in November but has won well since. It could be closer between the pair this time but Easywork looks notably progressive.

The Tattersalls Spring Juvenile Hurdle sees Aspire Tower try to make it three from three over flights.

Henry De Bromhead’s four-year-old has won his two starts to date by a total of 31 lengths and looks Ireland’s clear best ahead of the Triumph Hurdle.

Ceberus finished runner-up to the top English juvenile Allmankind at Chepstow so Sunday’s contest might provide an intriguing form link.

JP McManus has 19 horses carrying his colours in the three handicaps including 10 in the €150,000 Gaelic Plant Hire Leopardstown Chase. They include Blazer who has always promised to take a lucrative pot.

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