“What. A. Horse. Faugheen.” Was the emphatic reaction from the Racing TV Twitter account after Willie Mullins’ 12yo won the Grade 1 Flogas Chase at the Dublin Festival last month. In truth, everyone connected to racing knows what a horse Faugheen “The Machine” is, and the same reaction was trotted out five years ago when Faugheen was putting all to the sword over hurdles.
But Faugheen has that innate quality possessed by only the top sports stars, be they equine or of the two-legged variety; namely, the ability to surprise and to make observers feel foolish for having cast doubt on their ability. Rodger Federer is that type, having had his sporting obituary written several times in the last decade, only to bounce back with yet another Grand Slam. Kauto Star and Red Rum are also good examples from the racing world.
Back at Cheltenham 2018, Faugheen – despite some early promise – chugged along and ran out of steam, finishing to a limp 6th place in the Champion Hurdle. There wasn’t any annoyance from the punters in the crowd that day; just a sense of sadness that “The Machine” was no longer able to deliver his best. A few weeks later, Faugheen was winning the Irish Stayers’ Hurdle and some wondered if the longer trip might deliver some success at the back-end of his career. It did, in a way, with Faugheen’s gutsy 3rd place finish in the Stayers’ at Cheltenham 2019 seen as a better way to bow out than the year previously.
Faugheen sent chasing in November 2019
And then, we got another reinvention last autumn. Willie Mullins’ decided to send Faugheen chasing as an 11yo. Once again, Mullins caught most observers off guard. His debut chase, a relatively low-key affair at Punchestown, in November put a smile on people’s faces after 7-length victory, but the words “too soon to tell” were on their lips. On Boxing Day, Faugheen then took his first Grade 1 over fences, beating the talented Samcro after a pulsating ding-dong along the way. Another Grade 1 in the bag at the Dublin Festival, and Faugheen the chaser is now a hot-button topic among racing fans.
But where does the story end? Faugheen is the type of talent that we all wish that would go on forever. However, he has perhaps one more season after this, if we are lucky. The hope for many fans is that The Machine can continue his unbeaten chasing form at Cheltenham next week, and bookmakers tend to believe he can do it.
The most likely destination for Faugheen seems to be the Marsh Novices’ Chase on St Patrick’s Thursday. Faugheen is available at a standout price of 8/1 with William Hill, but as low as 5/1 elsewhere. He also has an entry for the RSA Chase, and gets a price of 14/1, but the Marsh seems more likely.
Tough Ask for Faugheen in Grade 1 Marsh Novices’ Chase
With all due respect to Samcro and the other Faugheen has thumped over the last five months, the Marsh Novices’ Chase represents a much sterner test. Itchy Feet is the 5/1 favourite by a shade, with the brilliant Allaho best-priced at 11/2. Mister Fisher (8/1), Samcro (9/1) and Easy Game (11/1) all might have a say. If you are having a punt on this one, freebets.co.uk brings you many Cheltenham free bets to choose from; really worth checking out for what is one of the most open races of the festival.
Allaho and Itchy Feet, both of whom are half Faugheen’s age, might go on to have wonderful careers. But next week, at the racecourse where Faugheen became a legend in the eyes of both British and Irish fans, everyone else will be playing spoiler. Faugheen has a people’s champion quality about him. If he wins – and that’s still a big if – you should expect an emotional reaction similar to the one caused by Sprinter Sacré in the Champion Chase in 2016.
It might be a bit much to see a tear in the eye of the stoic Willie Mullins, as we did with Nicky Henderson wit Sprinter, but the roof will come off the place if Faugheen passes that finish line ahead of the field. Stories like Faugheen’s don’t come around too often. But they are part of what makes sport great. The stage is set for The Machine to light up Cheltenham once again; perhaps for the last time in a glittering career.