Willie Mullins still scratching head over Faugheen loss

Vautour could make his eagerly awaited seasonal debut at Ascot on Saturday

Jockey Ruby Walsh onboard Vautour clears a fence on his way to winning The Leopardstown Killiney Novice Steeplechase in January, 2015. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

Jockey Ruby Walsh onboard Vautour clears a fence on his way to winning The Leopardstown Killiney Novice Steeplechase in January, 2015. Photograph: Cathal Noonan/Inpho

 

Willie Mullins remains “surprised” by Faugheen’s defeat by stablemate Nichols Canyon in the StanJames.com Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown on Sunday.

The Champion Hurdle hero was sent of 1/6 in a field of five to stretch his 100 per cent record but could not get to grips with Nichols Canyon in the closing stages and went down by half a length.

Mullins saddled the first three home in the Grade One, with Wicklow Brave just a length and a quarter back in third, yet the Co Carlow handler is still scratching his head at Faugheen’s shock defeat.

“We won’t know if we have underestimated Nichols Canyon until his next run but we could easily have.

“Looking at Faugheen’s work, last week we couldn’t see Faugheen being beaten by Nichols Canyon.

“It was a surprise. Maybe the work just brought on Nichols Canyon more than Faugheen.”

Meanwhile, Vautour could make his eagerly awaited seasonal debut in the Stella Artois 1965 Chase at Ascot on Saturday. Mullins has given the exciting six-year-old an entry in the Grade Two contest over two miles and five furlongs.

Vautour, a Cheltenham Festival winner for the last two years, won three of his four starts over fences last term.

As well as at Ascot, he also holds entries next month in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase and in the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton.

Ptit Zig is set to line up following his recent victory in the Powers Irish Whiskey Chase at Down Royal.

Trainer Paul Nicholls reports his talented six-year-old in good form but that he will need to improve should Vautour cross the Irish Sea.

“He is fine since coming back from Ireland but he wants to be fine, and to find a bit more, if Vautour comes over,” said the Ditcheat handler.

Vautour looks to have frightened away some potential opposition as the race has been re-opened until Tuesday due to insufficient entries.

Nicky Henderson has reaffirmed Sprinter Sacre’s main target will be to try to regain his Queen Mother Champion Chase crown.

Henderson is no immediate hurry to decide whether Sprinter Sacre runs in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown on December 5, where he could face stablemate Simonsig, following his return to winning ways with a 14-length call over Somersby in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham.

“The Tingle Creek is not very far away, so I’d like to sit on that one. It’s the obvious place to go, but it doesn’t mean we have to,” said Henderson.

“We’ll work backwards. There’s one race we really want to go for [Champion Chase] – we want to be there in March.”

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