03/10/2015 12:39PM

Faugheen stays unbeaten in Champion Hurdle


CHELTENHAM, England - Faugheen led a parade of winners for Irish trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh at Cheltenham Racecourse on Tuesday, stretching his unbeaten record to nine races with a frontrunning win in the $600,000 Champion Hurdle.

Mullilns and Walsh combined to win three races on the seven-race card. Earlier in the day, they teamed to win the $180,000 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at 2 1/16 miles with 2-1 favorite Douvan, and the $225,000 Arkle Trophy for novice chasers at two miles with Un De Sceaux, the 4-6 favorite.

Mullins later won the $150,000 Mares’ Hurdle with the 16-1 shot Glens Melody, who was ridden by Paul Townend. Another of his runners - Annie Power, the 1-2 favorite in the Mares’ Hurdle - fell at the last. Neither Annie Power nor Walsh were injured. 

Mullins swept the first three positions in the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle. Faugheen (5-6 favorite) was allowed to set his own pace and repelled the challenge of two other Mullins-trained runners - 20-1 Arctic Fire and 8-1 Hurricane Fly – to win by 1 1/2 lengths. Walsh said the race tactics were not ideal, but Faugheen’s experience of leading or stalking the pace in past wins was an asset.

“It wasn’t the idea to do the running,” Walsh said. “He jumped, but he can jump better. He has a good turn of foot and I used it off the bend.”

Faugheen and Douvan are owned by American Rich Ricci, a London-based investment banker.

“It’s a day of a lifetime for everyone,” said winning owner Rich Ricci. “These are the ones you dream about.”

Faugheen is a 7-year-old Irish-bred gelding by Germany, who began his career in Ireland in April, 2012. He has been compared favorably to Istabraq, a three time winner of this race from 1998-2000. Ricci said in the winner’s circle that the 2016 Champion Hurdle is a goal for Faugheen.

Bookies agree. Prices of 6-4 in the future book for the 2016 Champion Hurdle were being offered on Tuesday, even with the race a year away.

“We’ll be back next year,” Ricci said. “He might take on Douvan, who knows?’

*Tuesday was the first of the four-day Cheltenham Festival, highlighted by Friday’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

In Thursday’s $450,000 World Hurdle at three miles, Paul Nicholls, the leading jump trainer in Britain, has the two favorites at early odds of 9-2 – Saphir du Rheu and Zarkandar.

Saphir du Rheu, a 6-year-old gelding, fell in a steeplechase at Kempton Park on Dec. 26, but rebounded to win a three-mile hurdle here on Jan. 24. Zarkandar, an 8-year-old gelding, has not raced since finishing second to World Hurdle runner Reve de Sivola in a Grade 1 hurdle at 3 1-8 miles at Ascot on Dec. 28. Reve de Sivola was subsequently second to Saphir du Rheu on Jan. 24.

Mullins has two runners – Abbyssial and Zaidpour, both of which will be longshots. 

Leading British jump rider A.P. McCoy will ride At Fishers Cross, who was third in the 2014 running. At Fishers Cross, an 8-year-old gelding, is trained by Rebecca Curtis, a former assistant to trainer Dan Hendricks in Southern California.