Faugheen powers to Champion Hurdle glory

Unbeaten hurdler Faugheen gave trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh their third winner of the day when running out a commanding winner of the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham this afternoon.

The 4/5 favourite was always travelling powerfully under Walsh and, when asked for his effort turning for home, the reaction was instant as the seven-year-old skipped up the hill to record a one and a half length victory from his fast-finishing stablemate Arctic Fire.

Faugheen’s victory stretched his unbeaten run to nine and gives Mullins and Walsh an 8/1 treble on the card.

Walsh has always had faith in Faugheen and opted to ride him in the race over dual Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly, who finished a further five lengths back in third, giving Mullins an unprecedented 1-2-3 in the race. Trainer Aidan O’Brien trained the first two home in 1998 and 1999 when Theatreworld chased home the mighty Istabraq.

“It was a massive decision not to ride Hurricane Fly,” said Walsh.

“I knew that he was in great nick but a lot of the credit goes to John Codd (who looks after Faugheen at home). He is a wonderful horse, he has jumped better – he missed the second last.

“I know the betting reflected that I was always going to ride Faugheen but when you are in a stable like Willie’s and you see what Hurricane Fly is doing at home, it is still a big call to make and get off him.

“This is an incredible little horse, a fine horse. He was awkward at the second last but pinged the last and saw it out well.

“He is definitely not slow and no-one else wanted to make it so I was only going to go my fractions in front – I wasn’t going to go theirs. He’s got such a good turn of foot though. This is probably the best feel I’ve ever had from him – it was certainly his biggest challenge facing all these good horses.

“It’s some training performance to have the 1-2-3 and a 1-2 in the Supreme. It’s a great place to work and the man’s a genius. He has a great team of staff around him and it’s brilliant to be part of it.”

Mullins said: “Ruby [Walsh] told me about a month ago what he was going to do and how he was going to do it – and he did it.

“We looked at the race and we thought no one probably wanted to make it, and Ruby just thought it might be the thing to do. I was happy once he was happy to do it. There didn’t seem to be a potential front-runner. In championship races, it’s always hard to get a front-runner and if you are brave enough to do it, why not?

“I wasn’t concerned at any stage, I thought he was well in control all the time.

Talking about the unbeaten seven-year-old Faugheen, who was bred in Ireland by Dr John Waldron by Germany out of an Accordian mare and who is owned by Rich Ricci, Mullins said:
“He’s young, he’s improving, he’s coming on and what can I say, he’s got a long way to go to be as good as Hurricane Fly. He probably won’t jump a fence. When you’ve got a good hurdler like this there’s no reason to go novice chasing.”

About second-placed Arctic Fire: “Arctic Fire is a horse we know is improving and I don’t think I still have him fit yet, which is incredible but I still can’t see a rib on him.”

Hurricane Fly, running for the fifth time in a race he has won twice: “Hurricane Fly ran a terrific race, I thought he was going to get right into it at the second-last. I think Paul [Townend] was very happy and I was happy how he ran – no disgrace.”

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