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Sunday, 16 December, 2018

Fabulous Faugheen biggest star in the jumping firmament - by a country mile

Faugheen is still the biggest star in the jumping universe
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The jumps season has built up a real head of steam and every weekend between now and the new year is full of goodies to lift the spirits as the temperatures continue to dip. Here, we take a look at what lessons we have learned so far.

Faugheen still the hottest ticket in town

Cue Card's loyal fans will be seething, but let's face facts. In the post-Kauto Star era, if you need a horse to get people through the gate and eyeballs on TVs, then Faugheen is still the one.

This absolute star was off the scene for almost two years. Think about how long that is in sport, in politics, in your own life. Despite that, his return had everyone in racing interested and his thumping win in the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle was one of the feelgood moments of 2017.

If he lines up in the Champion Hurdle in March without a blip between now and then, the race will be one of the most watched in modern festival history and a reclaiming of his crown would send Cheltenham (and Twitter) into meltdown.

Bristol De Mai could spearhead a Nigel Twiston-Davies title challenge

Nigel Twiston-Davies not to be overlooked

Paul Nicholls is mates with Sir Alex Ferguson, so it could be that he was just deploying his own version of the former Manchester United boss's famed mind games when he said Nigel Twiston-Davies is too big in the champion trainer betting at 100-1.

On the other hand, what he is saying makes sense. In Bristol De Mai, Twiston-Davies looks to have a legitimate Grade 1 star on his hands but more than that, he has a stable brimming with candidates for big Saturday handicaps, exactly where the title-winning money is.

Twiston Davies himself feels he would probably need to win the Gold Cup and/or the Grand National to have a realistic chance but think about it. He could, couldn't he?

It's not all about Cheltenham

The biggest complaint about the jumps in recent years has been that the whole season is too focused on those four magical days in March and it is probably fair to say that there has been a degree of truth in that. In 2017-18 though, it feels different.

There is a real buzz about this weekend's Ladbrokes Trophy, genuine excitement about the Tingle Creek, thanks in large part to Douvan, and Bristol De Mai's Haydock demolition job has set up the King George perfectly. Emerging stars like Samcro and returning heroes like Thistlecrack only add to the mix and long may it continue.

Bryony Frost is a star

There is no secret to becoming a star jockey. You need no small measure of talent and the ability to couple that with hard work by the bucket load. Becoming a star out of the saddle is an entirely different kettle of fish though but in Bryony Frost, the sport may have stumbled across its next big thing.

Frost is delivering on the big stage when presented with the opportunities and with her media exposure growing as a result, we are getting to know a young rider bursting with personality. ITV Racing's Ed Chamberlin wasn't holding back when he described her as "the best thing that has happened to the sport in a long time". You know what, though? He might well be on to something.

2016-17 juveniles not showing up

From the positives to a negative. Plenty of people were worried about whether last season's juvenile form would amount to much and at the moment, those concerns look to have been legitimate after Defi Du Seuil dropped an alarming clanger at Ascot last Saturday.

Horses are not machines and Defi Du Seuil could yet restore his reputation but last year's Triumph Hurdle contenders are collectively yet to set the world and the Fred Winter form is not looking too hot either. It may be a little too early to write them off entirely just yet but something has to change soon if the 2016-17 class of youngsters is to win over the hearts and minds of punters.

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If he lines up in the Champion Hurdle in March without a blip between now and then the race will be one of the most watched in modern festival history
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