/ Racing

Willie Mullins' Faugheen is chasing Neptune triumph

Updated: Tuesday, 11 Mar 2014 13:09 | Comments

Willie Mullins is confident that the pace will suit Faugheen
Willie Mullins is confident that the pace will suit Faugheen

Faugheen is the latest Willie Mullins-trained youngster to put his huge reputation on the line in the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham on Wednesday.

Ireland's champion trainer has won the Grade One prize with Fiveforthree (2008) and Mikael D'Haguenet (2009) in recent years, with the latter considered one of the Irish bankers at that year's Festival.

However, So Young let down favourite backers when third in 2011 and last year the heavily-supported Pont Alexandre could only pick up minor honours behind The New One and Rule The World.

Point-to-point graduate Faugheen has barely come off the bridle in his three starts over timber this season and while the longer Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle was considered for a while, Mullins is happy to bring him back in trip.

He said: "Faugheen has done everything right and I think the pace of the race will suit him.

"We know he stays well and we're looking forward to seeing how he gets on.

"I didn't think he needed another run (after winning at Limerick in December), he's very hard on himself. He jumps well so I didn't think he needed one. I was happy enough."

Mullins saddles another major contender in Rathvinden, who finished behind David Pipe's unbeaten hurdler Red Sherlock at Cheltenham in January, with that one reopposing this time.

"Rathvinden ran a great race against Red Sherlock at the track and we think he's improved, which puts him right in the firing line as well," said Mullins.

"But Faugheen has probably posted the best form of our two and he's unbeaten."

Another interesting contender from across the Irish Sea is Lieutenant Colonel, trained by Dessie Hughes.

The five-year-old steps up in distance having won once from three starts in two-mile hurdle races, chasing home Mullins' two major Supreme Novices' Hurdle hopes Vautour and Wicklow Brave on his other appearances.

Hughes said: "I was pleased with his last run in Punchestown.

"I think the winner (Wicklow Brave) is a very good horse and the form of that race looks strong with the third horse (Real Steel) coming out and winning at Naas.

"The ground isn't a concern - he goes on any ground."

Ballyalton looked a major contender for this prize after completing a hat-trick over hurdles at Cheltenham in December.

Although he blotted his copybook when beaten into fourth at the track on New Year's Day, trainer Ian Williams is hopeful his stable star will bounce back on the sounder surface he will encounter this week.

He said: "We'd avoided running him on really soft ground and ended up at Cheltenham. It down poured just beforehand and we were almost over the cliff before we jumped.

"I wish I hadn't run him, but there is always another day.

"He's got the form in the book and he was improving.

"He worked very nicely at Kempton the other day and the weather forecast looks very pleasing at the moment.

"We gave him a break after that, he came back really sweet and really well in himself, so we're looking forward to it."

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