The first day of the Punchestown Festival was highlighted by Faugheen on Tuesday with the Willie Mullins horse routing his rivals in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle. The unbeaten six-year-old was dropped back in trip to two miles for the first time and he seemed to love every second of it as he produced an excellent round of jumping, before pulling well clear of what looked like a strong field, on paper at least.
We saw Faugheen produce an excellent display at the Cheltenham Festival last month when he won the Neptune Investment Novices Hurdle but it appears that he could be even better over the minimum trip. There had been one or two doubts about his jumping in the past but those fears were put to bed on Tuesday as he skipped over the hurdles with great enthusiasm. Ruby Walsh was happy to put the horse on the front and Faugheen seemed to relish the extra speed of the gallop, before he streaked clear in the home straight without too much insistence to finish fully 12 lengths clear of the highly respected Valseur Lido.
The bookmakers were quick to react to this latest win from Faugheen with his price for the 2015 Champion Hurdle cut across the board. He was slashed from 16/1 into 6/1 for the Champion Hurdle by Bet Victor although William Hill were still offering 7/1 at the time of writing. It remains to be seen if that turns out to be decent value but at this stage his path next season is far from certain. Willie Mullins also has Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Vautour in his yard for the same owner and the general consensus is that one of them will be sent chasing next season.
Hurricane Fly has been the Champion Hurdle horse for Mullins in recent years but he isn't getting any younger which should mean one of the young novices will be trained for that race. Mullins also has Un De Sceaux to consider who is unbeaten over hurdles, while brilliant mare Annie Power has the same owners as Vautour and Faugheen and she could still be anything over hurdles or fences.
It is fair to say that Mullins is blessed with an embarrassment of riches at the moment and the performance of Faugheen over two miles at Punchestown as added another layer of intrigue with next season in mind. He seemed to relish the strong gallop over two miles with his jumping improving for it and that does suggest that maybe he could be the horse to take over from Hurricane Fly as the Champion Hurdle contender for the Irish Trainer.