Brian Hughes: ‘Incredible' Faugheen can lead younger generation a merry dance
WILLIE Mullins finally came to the party in the final race of the day yesterday – the Champion Bumper – and I expect him to be back in the winners’ enclosure after the first race today, with the admirable veteran Faugheen.
It seems like a lifetime ago since he came up the Cheltenham Hill under Ruby Walsh to win the Supreme Novices and then followed up by winning the Champion Hurdle a year later.
He looked to have a few more Champion Hurdles in him at that stage of his career, but injuries set him back and it’s an absolute credit to Willie Mullins that this season, even at the age of 12, he seems to be as good as ever. He’s just an unbelievable horse, as his record of 17 wins from 25 runs indicates, and amidst all of his hurdling exploits it maybe gets lost that he’s three from three over fences, despite coming late to the game.
Two of those three wins – at Limerick on St Stephen’s Day and at Leopardstown at the start of last month, were Grade Ones – and he will be right at home against today’s opponents in the Marsh Novices Chase today.
This race turned out to be one of the best at last year’s Festival, when Defi De Seuil beat Lostintranslation, but I doubt whether any of the younger horses in today’s field are of that quality. You’d have to respect Itchy Feet, who is two from two, one of which was in the Scilly Isles Chase at Sandown last month.
He did it well that day and his third to Klassical Dream in the Supreme last year reads well. Mister Fisher is another big threat, coming from the all-conquering Nick Henderson yard. He won well at the track last time out and the step up in trip will be good for him, but I’m going to side with the old-stager Faugheen, at around 11/2, to roll back the years and put the younger brigade in their place.
I HATE to be predictable, but after tipping the winners of two of the handicap chases on day one (The Conditional and Imperial Aura) I feel I’ve enough credit in the bank to side with a few favourites on today’s card – both in the feature races. Cheveley Park and JP McManus pretty much had the whole card to themselves yesterday – Politologue aside – and I can see the blue and red of Cheveley Park celebrating another big win after today’s Ryanair Chase.
A Plus Tard is a short enough price at around 7/4 but his credentials are rock solid and he deserves to be the price he is. The trip is perfect, the ground should be fine and he was very impressive under Rachel Blackmore at last year’s Festival, when he won the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase.
We know the importance of having Festival form and with his stable also going well this week he will be a hard one to get past. Paisley Park is also very hard to oppose in the Stayers Hurdle.
He’s been out on his own in this division since winning this race last year, and I expect him to go back-to-back today.
If I had to pick one that could chase him home, or possibly even turn him over, I’d go for another previous winner, Penhill.
He won this two years ago, a year after winning the Albert Bartlett, and although he’s had two quiet enough campaigns since he won this race, he’s still only a nine-year-old and I’m sure he has a bit of spark in him yet.
Nicky Henderson is the man to watch in the mares’ novices hurdle with Floressa.
She was third to Lady Buttons and Irish Roe on her last run at Doncaster, despite having no luck in running.
Before that she won a Listed race at Newbury in good style and I can see her returning to winning ways today.
Minella Melody, from the same connections as Tuesday’s mares’ hurdle winner, Honeysuckle, is favourite and probably deserves to be after winning a Grade Three at Fairyhouse last time out, but I will take Floressa to have her measure.
R ELEGATE will be popular with punters to win the Pertemps Hurdle, given the fact he won the Bumper when with Willie Mullins two years ago, but I will take him on with one at a price, in the shape of Stoney Mountain at 33/1.
Henry Daly and Trevor Hemmings sent him chasing after he won a valuable handicap hurdle at Haydock back in November, but he unseated on his debut at Cheltenham and they sent him back over hurdles.
He didn’t run badly in a qualifier at Warwick in January, finishing fifth after meeting trouble in running, and I think he could be in here off a nice racing weight with Sam Twiston-Davies doing the steering.