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Saturday, 15 December, 2018

Mullins hopes cheekpieces can rekindle the Faugheen of old

Faugheen at Cheltenham on Sunday morning with Rachel Robins
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Faugheen will wear cheekpieces for the first time in Tuesday’s Unibet Champion Hurdle with trainer Willie Mullins hoping the headgear can help the ten-year-old rediscover his top-class form.

The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner has been below his best on two starts since returning from a 665-day absence to win the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle in November.

Mullins said of Faugheen, who will have the assistance of Ruby Walsh at Cheltenham: "We thought first-time cheekpieces might be a help to him. We felt we'd try something new and thought about blinkers before settling on cheekpieces in the hope they might rekindle him and get him to show something like his old form.

"At his age there's no point waiting another year to try something different as he'll be 11 this time next year."

Faugheen, who stretched his legs at Cheltenham on Sunday, was one of 13 horses declared for the Champion Hurdle, with Mullins responsible for four, the same number as Nicky Henderson.

Owner Rich Ricci, speaking about the addition of cheekpieces, said on Racing UK's Luck On Sunday: "They will add a little something different and hopefully he can bounce back. We are looking for an edge to get his spark back."

Faugheen will be joined by stablemates Melon, Wicklow Brave and Yorkhill, who will be partnered by David Mullins for the first time on his first start over hurdles since 2016. 

Defending champion Buveur D'Air heads Henderson's team alongside My Tent Or Yours, Charli Parcs and Verdana Blue.

Five do battle in Arkle

Henderson and Mullins will go head to head again in the Racing Post Arkle after Brain Power and Footpad were among five runners declared. Saint Calvados, Petit Mouchoir and Robinshill complete the field, which is the smallest this century.

A small field will also contest the OLBG Mares' Hurdle with Apple's Jade topping the nine declared. It is the smallest field in the race's history. Her rivals will include Benie Des Dieux and La Bague Au Roi, who had the Sun Bets Stayers' Hurdle as an alternative option.

There will be larger fields for the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (20), Ultima Handicap Chase (18), National Hunt Novices' Chase (16) and Close Brothers' Novices' Handicap Chase (20). 

Samcro was not declared for the Supreme and heads to Wednesday's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle, while second favourite Movewiththetimes was not in the final field for the Close Brothers.

Snow Falcon and Dingo Dollar were the highest-profile absentees in the Ultima Handicap Chase, which has six fewer left in than the maximum field of 24 and in which there are no Irish representatives. 

Dounikos, who is expected to run in Wednesday's RSA Chase, was not declared for the National Hunt Chase, for which he was as short as 5-1.

The Gordon Elliott-trained Mossback was on Sunday supported into 6-1 from 10s for the National Hunt Chase, in which he will be ridden by last year's winner Lisa O'Neill. Elliott also saddles the favourite Jury Duty, the mount of Jamie Codd.

Tuesday's Cheltenham card

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We are looking for an edge to get his spark back

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