Hayley O’Connor: Could Faugheen be even better than Istabraq?
Faugheen is set to make his seasonal reappearance on Sunday in the Morgiana Hurdle, and he’s not going to get beat, he simply can’t.
I think the last horse I backed at as short as price as he is due to go off for the race was Hurricane Fly when he won at Punchestown at 1/4 in 2013, but I can say that I’d still back the current Champion Hurdler to triumph this weekend.
I wasn’t overly keen on him for much of last year, because he clattered through the odd hurdle and I didn’t think he would get away with that at Cheltenham with a faster pace and simply bunny-hopping his obstacles, but he did, and it just doesn’t seem to matter to him.
His current rating has him three pounds off Istabraq’s best on 173, and I dare say I see him surpassing that.
He’s so versatile having won over three miles at Limerick, as well as the minimum trip, and doesn’t seem to be bothered what sort of going he runs on, having triumphed on both heavy and good ground.
He has what great horses have – versatility, in that Ruby Walsh can put him anywhere in the race and it doesn’t matter. While he has made the running in plenty of his races, he doesn’t have to go from the front.
Although only November, I cannot see him getting beaten in the Champion Hurdle, and I think there are worse Even money shots out there.
I feel so lucky that I’m in the same era that can witness Walsh on horses of Faugheen, Vautour and Douvan’s ilk, because these partnerships are incredible to watch.
Ruby has a unique way in the saddle, sitting so far forward, over the horses’ withers. At times it can be scary to watch because it looks a vulnerable place to be, but it allows the horse to really press on.
It looks like chasing will be Douvan’s game this term with the Drinmore Novices’ Chase as his next entry.
I don’t think it would have been quite so straightforward a decision as many would have you believe, as while he is a big, imposing type, he was so fluent over his hurdles and was very impressive in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
We haven’t seen him out yet, but we have caught a glimpse of the horse that finished behind him at Punchestown, Sizing John.
It was an impressive chase debut for Henry De Bromhead’s charge, and I thought that the more fences he jumped, the better he got.
I’d question whether he could be Arkle-bound to take on Douvan, as after that race his trainer said that he wouldn’t be opposed to try him over further.
I think his jumping will continue to improve and he will be better over fences than he was over hurdles, but if he comes up against Douvan, he’s going to be playing second fiddle.
At the moment, he is not in the same vicinity as Mullins’ star in terms of awesomeness.
We will see on Sunday in the Craddockstown Novices’ Chase how much he has improved from his Beginners Chase win.
I just think it is great that we have seen as many horses that are prominent in the betting for the big Cheltenham races as we have this season.
Sometimes we can be hanging around in these early exchanges, with a lot of late defectors, but we seem to have jumped straight into it.
As far as the main event, the Gold Cup goes, we’ve seen a few of the candidates out already this season.
You’d have to be taken with the way Coneygree jumps his fences, while I feel that there will be plenty more to come from Don Cossack after his Down Royal win.
But the one I think could sneak under the radar is Road to Riches.
He was very brave coming down to the last at Clonmel on Thursday and put in a smart performance over a trip that was probably too short.
Noel Meade has said that the Gold Cup last season was such a gruelling race and wasn’t surprised that he got beaten.
It looks as if the Lexus is his next stop for him, and with Meade renowned for getting them ready at that time of the year, you’d expect him to go well.
It might be a double edged sword though, because people may think that he will peak at Leopardstown over Christmas, and brush him aside in their Gold Cup calculations.
Road to Riches might be a good antepost bet any other year, but with the calibre of rivals he could face, this could be the best renewal I’ve ever seen.
Every year in Ireland it seems to be the Willie Mullins show with the County Carlow trainer dominating the big races. I expect him to have similar success this season, but he could face more of a challenge this term.
The dark horse for some of the top events could be Dermot Weld.
He’s had a couple of winners at Cheltenham in recent years and has had an amazing flat campaign this year.
He hasn’t got the volume of horses as some of the others, but we could certainly see some of his horses turning up on the big days.
But Gordon Elliot is a trainer who I think is just phenomenal in what he does.
Every year he is getting better and is more tactical with how he places his horses and this year with the Gold Cup contenders he has he could be a real thorn in the side of Mullins.
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