The head-scratching continues over Faugheen. The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner has not had a dazzling return in the way that Willie Mullins and the Ricci family would have hoped. He has raced three times since making his comeback in November, recording one victory, one 2nd place and pulling up once.
Indeed, the signs were there when winning the Morgiana Hurdle in November. Despite winning the race by 16 lengths, Faugheen did not exhibit the fluency that characterised his career in the past. In December, connections were keen to put his pulling up in the Ryanair Hurdle as an anomaly, just an off day, with jockey Paul Townend suggesting it was a precaution rather than a serious problem.
Then came the Irish Champion Hurdle in February. He looked like his old self for the majority of the race, but could not hit find the extra gear for the run-in. In the end, he was well beaten by Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae. His performance was most aptly summed up by trainer Willie Mullins, who said, “He’s sort of half back on track.” Not the words punters were hoping for.
Buveur D’Air’s Sandown victory told us very little
A couple of hours before that, Buveur D’Air was winning an easy race at odds of 1/16 at Sandown. A race that told us very little about his form for the Champion Hurdle. The odds didn’t shift too much as a consequence. Below are some selected Champion Hurdle ante-post odds from Betfair:
|Buveur D’Air||4/9||Nicky Henderson|
|Yorkhill||10/1||W P Mullins|
|My Tent or Yours||12/1||Nicky Henderson|
Although Faugheen drifted out to 7/1, he is still priced in around 5/1 elsewhere and taking plenty of money on the exchanges. There are free bets available for the race, so follow the link to freebets.co.uk, your leading choice for Cheltenham Festival betting offers.
Faugheen could now become a value bet for the Festival
For most punters, it will seem strange to see a big price beside his name. Indeed, he has only twice before been priced at odds-against, and never had an SP greater than 6/4. But, is there still hope for one of the greatest in modern times? Nicky Henderson still sees Faugheen as a big danger to Buveur D’Air, but Faugheen’s connections have been less bullish after the Irish Champion Hurdle.
The thing is though, there is plenty of precedence for Faugheen making a strong comeback, even if Cheltenham is mere weeks away. Everyone was quick to write off Sprinter Sacre before he bounced back to the top of his game in 2016. Under Mullins, he has a trainer who is also used to pulling it out of the bag when things look bleak.
It may be that we have seen the last of the days when ‘The Machine’ was guaranteed to win. However, there were still signs at Leopardstown that he could work his way back to his best. After all, he didn’t run a terrible race and Supasundae is no slouch. Could it be the case that we are all left shaking our heads for failing to back this undoubtedly great horse at such relatively large odds?