Faugheen bounces back to imperious best to leave rivals trailing in his wake
Even before the running of the Ladbrokes Champion Stayers Hurdle, this year's Punchestown festival was already going to live long in the memory, but not since Sprinter Sacre landed the Champion Chase here in 2013 has there been a roar which matched that accorded to Faugheen.
His appearance in this race after a season which had petered out disappointingly after his Morgiana Hurdle success here in November had an appearance of last chance saloon about it, particularly over a trip he had not raced over since he was a novice hurdler.
David Mullins did manage to nick a few lengths at the start and he set a searching gallop by stayer's standards but he was probably going little more than a half-speed compare to the sort of gallop he is used to going over two miles.
Mullins was able to keep plenty up his sleeve, and when his stablemate and Cheltenham victor Penhill tried to lay down a challenge off the home bend, he dug into the reserves and came right away from the final flight to score by 13 lengths. Shaneshill made it a 1-2-3 for Closutton and recent Aintree winner Identity Thief was a never dangerous fourth.
It has of course been a season of frustration with Faugheen as he never really made it back to his best over the minimum trip after his lengthy spell on the sidelines, and his fate this season mirrored a frustrating enough season for his owner Rich Ricci.
He said: "He didn't work well last Saturday and this was sort of a last chance saloon. Myself and Ruby Walsh were on the gallop that morning and we looked at each other, thinking, 'That's him gone'.
"We were always going to take a chance and run him though, especially with a horse that has that type of an engine, and you would hope that with some nice weather and a nice bit of grass underneath that it would bring him back to life. He always runs well here too."
He added: "Maybe he's just fed up going that two-mile gallop and when he got things his own way here he just started to enjoy it. I was just watching the race and thinking that he was getting a nice soft lead, and unless he collapsed the others were going to have to do an awful lot of racing to get past him.
"If he had finished down the field we probably would have concluded that it was time to retire him but it didn't happen!"
One of the features of what Mullins has done this week is the array of jockeys he has employed. This was David Mullins' second Grade 1 success of the week having won the Gold Cup on Bellshill on Wednesday. "The horses seem to be in good form and more importantly the riders seem to be in good form and are taking their chances and are riding out of their skins."
And as for the future for the ten-year-old Faugheen?
"He could go chasing next year and it wouldn't give me any problem to send him chasing aged ten. Three-mile hurdling is very hard on a horse and we might not want to subject him to that on heavy ground over the winter, I think going novice chasing would be far easier on him."
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