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Faugheen looks another Neptune natural for owner Rich Ricci

| 10.12.2013

Faugheen has now won all four of his career starts and Willie Mullins and owners Rich and Susannah Ricci have a difficult decision on their hands as to which race he will head to at the Cheltenham Festival.

Their five-year-old won comprehensively at Navan on Saturday – where he was sent off as the 1/9 favourite – and is now 12/1 (from 16s) for the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle.

However he is also quoted in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle betting (20/1) and could even step up to three miles for the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle.

Bet on Faugheen to win the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at 12/1

A puzzle for punters then, however a look at past Cheltenham Festivals might help provide some much-needed clues.

Willie Mullins saddled Champagne Fever to win the Supreme Novices’ last season.

He was a former point-to-point winner but hadn’t tackled further than two miles at this stage last year and was always viewed as a relentless front-runner over two miles.

Ebaziyan won the Supreme for Mullins in 2007 but again his initial efforts over hurdles were over two miles, and the same applies to the County Carlow trainer’s first ever Cheltenham Festival winner Tourist Attraction back in 1995.

Perhaps surprisingly, one of Mullins’ back-to-back winners of the Neptune hadn’t run over two and a half miles before March.

The 2008 winner Fiveforthree only had one hurdles start prior to his big win and that came over two miles at Fairyhouse.

Mikael D’Haguenet – also owned by the Ricci family – won the Neptune a year later and the French recruit was a proven winner over 2m4f, including at Navan.

Willie Mullins won the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle in 2008 and 2009

It’s also interesting to see where previous winners of Saturday’s race have ended up.

The 2011 winner Dedigout went on to run in the Slaney Novice Hurdle the following January before landing the Champion Novice Hurdle (over 2m4f) at Punchestown in April; he avoided the Cheltenham Festival.

A year later, Saturday’s race was won by the fellow Gigginstown Stud-owned Rule The World.

He also ran in the Slaney (which he won) and he was then a gallant second behind The New One in the Neptune at Cheltenham.

Like Rule The World, Faugheen is a former point-to-point winner and the temptation is to assume that stamina is always one of their strong-points.

But a lot of the three-mile point-to-point races are run at a modest gallop and a turn of foot is often a more potent weapon than the ability to grind out victories in the mud.

Bet on Faugheen to win the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at 12/1

Connections are currently keeping their cards close to their chest after Saturday’s win.

Patrick Mullins, representing his father, said: “Ruby [Walsh, jockey] said he’ll be better with more jumping as he was a little untidy, but he has a huge engine.

“He could go up or down in trip and is probably one for Christmas. Hopefully he’ll be a Cheltenham horse in time and all of his form is working out well.”

The son of Germany is very stoutly-bred and my gut instinct is that he won’t run in the Supreme.

Mullins has never won the Albert Bartlett, but this could be the right horse to break that duck.

One thing is for definite; he will be a formidable force in whichever race he turns up in.



Nic Doggett