Faugheen (left) and Nichols Canyon are joined by stablemate Arctic FirePICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos)
Faugheen bids to exact revenge in a real cracker
THREE stablemates with 13 Grade 1 victories between them contest today’s Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and for one – Faugheen – it is all about revenge.
He reopposes Nichols Canyon – the only horse to have beaten him in 11 starts over hurdles in Ireland and Britain – with Arctic Fire ready to snap at their heels.
We hoped all three would turn up, but few expected it. In addition to their Grade 1 haul the Willie Mullins-trained trio sit in the top three places in the Stan James Champion Hurdle market.
Faugheen, Nichols Canyon and Arctic Fire are the best three hurdlers around and today you get to see all three lock horns for the first time.
Faugheen, the reigning Champion Hurdle hero, was sent off at 1-6 to make a winning return in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November but could not find a way past a determined Nichols Canyon.
He has never been to Leopardstown – where the ground is soft to heavy – and racecourse manager Pat Keogh has wasted little time in ordering the red carpet. He has finally got ‘The Machine’ and the crowds are likely to pack into the enclosures for the momentous occasion.
Drier ground helped Faugheen
The eight-year-old looked back to his best when defending his Christmas Hurdle crown at Kempton by seven lengths from The New One, and Ruby Walsh has stayed loyal.
“The biggest advantage Faugheen had at Kempton over Christmas was that the ground was a good bit drier than for the other two at Leopardstown over Christmas. That’s why Faugheen looked more impressive than the others,” Walsh said.
Today’s BHP Insurances-backed contest is given added lustre by the presence of Arctic Fire, and Mullins explained: “The Irish Champion Hurdle is a big race and a lot more than only a trial for Cheltenham in March.
“That’s why the different owners involved with our three contenders were very keen to run their horses.
“Nichols Canyon is the only horse to have beaten Faugheen, so this will be round two for the pair and it will be interesting to see how things go.
“Arctic Fire disappointed when we tried him over three miles last month but we discovered he had a lung infection, which he’s recovered from.”
'Should be a great race'
Paul Townend comes in for the ride on Nichols Canyon, winner of the Ryanair Hurdle last month. The only other time he has been on board was for a five-length victory in last season’s Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle at Fairyhouse and he cannot wait to experience the thrill once again.
He said: “I’m looking forward to it – it should be a great race. Obviously he has his work cut out to beat Faugheen, but he’s a very tough horse and the lad who looks after him is happy with him.
“He did have a hard race at Christmas, but he showed last year he’s able to take his racing. Arctic Fire isn’t out of it either.”
Danny Mullins will be on Arctic Fire for only the second time, but the pair got closer than anything else to Faugheen in last year’s Champion Hurdle, beaten only a length and a half.
He is a star in his own right, as he showed when coasting to victory in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse in November.
Three top-notch hurdlers ready to do battle. We can’t complain.