Faugheen out to bounce back on a day laden with quality
When Faugheen faced the starter at odds of 2-11 for the Ryanair Hurdle on the final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas festival, there wasn’t a horse on the planet who had beaten him.
Sadly, circumstance conspired to play an unfortunate role in that fact, as a day earlier Nichols Canyon, who had upstaged him in the 2015 Morgiana Hurdle, lost his life when he fell in the three-miler.
In the 2017 Morgiana last November, Faugheen had returned from nearly two years on the sidelines with the sort of remorseless performance that has defined his glorious career.
He was back – or so we thought. Willie Mullins took him to Leopardstown on December 29 and the expectation was that he just had to turn up to collect again under Paul Townend.
Ultimately, he didn’t turn up. The real Faugheen went MIA, as the imposter masquerading as ‘The Machine’ bombed out spectacularly.
He looked more like a ‘has been’ than a machine, so the question now is whether the horse who blew us away at Punchestown can still do it. Here’s hoping.
Faugheen is one of the most talented hurdlers we’ve been privileged to witness, and still has the capacity, even at ten years of age, to light up the inaugural two-day Dublin Racing Festival.
There is an abundance of quality throughout this card, but he alone possesses that unquantifiable X Factor to elevate proceedings to another level.
Lest we forget, it was in the 2016 BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle that Faugheen posted the performance of a lifetime before succumbing to injury, so there could be no more suitable platform for him to banish the doubts that linger now.
Should he deliver, few would begrudge those involved in the creation of this brilliant concept such a worthy denouement. Pulling such an ambitious project together in the period since it was first announced in June is no mean feat.
Townend backing Yorkhill in Min clash
To have succeeded in attracting a rematch between Christmas foes Simply Ned and Min for a Grade 2 would have been laudable in itself.
Throw the intractable Yorkhill into the mix for that Coral Dublin Chase along with last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Special Tiara and you get a sense of the enormity of the occasion.
Townend has eschewed Min this time in favour of Yorkhill, which is hardly surprising, notwithstanding their Christmas flop.
The Graham Wylie-owned chestnut is a bit special, but his penchant for making life difficult for himself has contributed to his being beaten in his last two starts.
He had only once been conquered in his first ten outings, so it will be fascinating now to see if the drop to two miles can stop the rot.
Footpad out to boost Mullins title hopes
Townend will also partner the new and improved Footpad in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase.
He is the only outright odds-on shot on a card that boasts €700,000 in spoils, a whopping prize fund that could have a crucial impact in the joust for the trainers’ championship. At the start of play, Gordon Elliott leads his nemesis Mullins by around €606,000.
The reigning title-holder throws 19 darts at the Foxrock board to Elliott’s nine, so it is conceivable that this could prove to be something of a moving day for the outgoing champion.
Buveur D’Air tops the bill at Sandown
At Sandown, Buveur D’Air will start at long odds-on in the Betfred Contenders Hurdle as he looks to emulate last year’s Grade 2 triumph en route to attempting to retain his Unibet Champion Hurdle crown.
If the Contenders looks a formality, the same cannot be said of the card’s Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase.
Five closely rated rivals go to post for this, with Nicky Henderson’s French import Terrefort looking to extend to four the remarkable unbeaten run of Daryl Jacob and his employers Simon Munir and Isaac Souede in the Grade 1.
This is clearly a big step up for the Huntingdon winner, but by the end of play we might see just why Jacob has opted for the London suburbs instead of the Dublin suburbs for the mount on Footpad.
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for his own sanity, Jacob probably won’t be able to watch the Irish Arkle on television.
Where to watch what on a hot day of action
To think we got this far without mentioning television.
RTE2 will broadcast six of the seven Leopardstown races on Irish television, but that channel won’t be available to view at Sandown.
Unfortunately, ITV don’t have the rights to Irish racing, so it’s Sandown, Wetherby and Musselburgh only for British viewers on ITV4.
By the by, some Irish viewers won’t be able to watch Sandown on terrestrial TV either, as TV3 are prioritising Six Nations coverage today instead of the ITV output that it has access to.
The Dublin Racing Festival will, of course, be broadcast on At The Races, albeit for the one and only time in light of the bombshell that Racing UK will take over on the satellite platforms from next year.
This, it seems, is the how the turbulent world of media rights works.
It’s enough to make your head spin, although the main reason Jacob won’t be able to watch Footpad in action is because there is just a five-minute gap between the off-times for the two Grade 1s.
Things could get a little congested. A sign of things to come, perhaps?
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