By Simon Jackson.
Faugheen bids to extend his unbeaten record to nine wins when he lines up in the Stan James Champion Hurdle, the feature race on the first day of the Cheltenham Festival.
The Willie Mullins-trained seven-year-old has proved to be far superior to his rivals in his eight starts to date. The winner of just over £250,000 in prize money cemented his place at the head of the market for Tuesday’s Grade 1 contest with an eight-length victory in the Grade 1 williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park on Boxing Day.
Mullins had initially considered giving him a prep run before Cheltenham, but ultimately opted to go straight to the Festival without another run.
“Faugheen is doing everything right. Nigel Twiston-Davies has questioned what Faugheen has beaten and I am going to side with him on that for the time being,” Mullins said at a stable visit organised by Cheltenham racecourse in late February.
“I thought Faugheen might go chasing this season but, when we analysed everything and looked at the fact that he hadn’t been beaten, everyone was keener for him to go back hurdling and Vautour to go chasing.
“To have a potential champion hurdler in the yard is huge, rather than a horse going for the Racing Post Arkle Chase.
“We thought Vautour could possibly win an Arkle and possibly be a Gold Cup horse one day and we weren’t as sure about Faugheen doing that.
“I did not want to travel to England again for a prep run and I didn’t want to take on Hurricane Fly in the Irish Champion. We prepared Faugheen for the Red Mills Trial but, after a good discussion with Ruby [Walsh], we felt he didn’t need any more experience.
“We looked up the stats and have seen plenty of horses that have gone straight from Kempton to Cheltenham without a run. I think people look too much into stats, especially ones only going back 10 years or so. I prefer to look back 25 or 30 years.”
Read ‘Horse Talk with Simon Jackson’ at London24 for the latest horse racing news.