The challengers came to the Irish Champion Hurdle to put it up to Hurricane Fly over the years and it looks like his own stablemates want to do the same to Faugheen on Sunday.
I had some super smash-ups with the ‘Fly’ at the Dublin track in the past and now it’s time for Faugheen to get the job done against Nichols Canyon and Arctic Fire at Leopardstown.
It’s the rematch everyone wants to see after Nichols Canyon beat Faugheen at Punchestown. I took my share of the blame for that defeat but Leopardstown is a stiffer test than the Kildare track and Faugheen should relish it.
If I’m honest I didn’t think Faugheen would be taking these on until the Champion Hurdle in March. He went straight to Cheltenham after winning at Christmas for the past two years at Kempton and Limerick.
The handicapper says Faugheen is the best horse in the race – I think he is too – and I hope we’re both right.
While Faugheen’s win at Kempton was the most impressive of the three stable companions, he did have the slight advantage of racing on better ground than the other two.
Nichols Canyon had a war with Identity Thief in the Ryanair Hurdle in December but he showed last season that he’s a tough cookie. Every time we thought we’d got to the bottom of him he seemed to have improved for the run.
I don’t know what happened to Arctic Fire over Christmas but he wouldn’t have won over two miles that day, never mind his try at three miles behind Prince of Scars.
But he’s better judged on his length and a half defeat by Faugheen in last season’s Champion Hurdle. That’s the run I’ll be taking into account. Form is form.
I rode Faugheen on Tuesday in his work and he went well. All three owners were keen to go for this prize so Willie has trained them on for it. It should be some race.
Arkle Novice Chase, 2m, Sunday 1.55pm
I missed out on Douvan’s win here at Christmas as I was at Kempton. He was impressive for Patrick Mullins and proved he could handle heavy ground. That will be important on Sunday.
All I’m looking for is a good round of jumping and for him to win. Un De Sceaux won this last year and went on to triumph in the Arkle Chase. A repeat performance by Douvan would be just dandy.
Marquees Maiden Hurdle 2m, Sunday, 12.50pm
Beau Mome has started favourite twice and has been beaten twice so he has a bit to prove. But he’s a horse we like and if he brought his homework to the racecourse he’d win it – but he hasn’t so far.
Jessica Harrington’s Don’t Touch It, Jack the Wire of Denis Hogan’s and Tony Martin’s Lip Service look the best of the others in it on form.
While I couldn’t be confident that Beau Mom will bring his ‘A’ game to the track (on the evidence of his two runs to date ) – if he brings his work on the gallops with him he’ll be a different proposition.
Novice Hurdle, 2m 4f, Sunday, 1.20pm
I ride James Nash’s Cardinal Palace but he’ll find this difficult. A few of these were good maiden hurdle winners at Leopardstown over Christmas including Willie’s A Toi Phil (who beat Don’t Touch It), Alan Fleming’s Chain Gang and Sandra Hughes’ Acapella Bourgeois.
Woodland Opera disappointed behind Long Dog in the Grade One Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle but was a good winner before that at Navan and the runner-up Coney Island has won a race since. (Beau Mome finished fourth in it).
It would be a career best for Cardinal Palace to even get placed and it should be an informative race with A Toi Phil and Woodland Opera setting the standard.
Incidentally, Outlander won this last year and the three horses who finished behind (Martello Tower, Killultagh Vic & Windsor Park) all went on to win at the Festival.
It usually produces a good winner [Pont Alexandre (2013), Boston Bob (2012) & Hidden Cyclone (2011) ] so the form could be form worth following.
Leopardstown Flat Race, 2m 4.05pm
Village Mystic won a point-to-point in the UK and while we’re not having as prolific as season with the bumper horses that we’ve enjoyed before – he looks one of the better ones.