The Road to the Cheltenham Festival 2018: Faugheen Disappoints Again But Min Looks Marvellous

Leopardstown Racecourse
Credit: Sarah777, via Wikimedia Commons

The Irish Champion Hurdle took place on Saturday at Leopardstown, and that is a Grade 1 renewal that punters like to keep an eye on: Faugheen, Hurricane Fly and Hardy Eustace have all won this race and gone on to win the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham Festival thereafter.

That said, the 2018 edition will be forever remembered for who didn’t win it, as opposed to who did.

Faugheen was tipped to return to his best form at a track where he boasts a rich history, but once again the ten-year-old looked off the pace – as he did in his seasonal return at the Ryanair Hurdle. At Leopardstown, he was bested by two-and-a-bit lengths by Supasundae, a horse making his first return to 16f since 2016.

It was a result that, while not exactly shaking up the world of horse racing, has had some implications to the ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival 2018. Here’s a quick look at the shake-up:

Walking on D’Air

Racehorse with Number 2 ClothFollowing another flaccid performance from Faugheen, Buveur D’Air has come in even further as the betting for the Champion Hurdle hots up.

Nicky Henderson’s steed is as short as 2/5 in some quarters to retain his crown, and the seven-year-old has already enjoyed a trio of victories this term, and there were no alarms from a comfortable win at Sandown on Saturday.

Faugheen, meanwhile, is out as far as 8/1, with the likes of My Tent or Yours (14/1) ad Yorkhill (16/1) listed in these early ante-post days.

One horse who may attract plenty of early interest is Mick Jazz (33/1), who followed up his win in the Ryanair Hurdle with third in the Irish Champion Hurdle. He was travelling very nicely before a slight mistake at the last, and trainer Gordon Elliott was chuffed with what he saw. “I’m absolutely delighted with that, couldn’t be happier. He’ll go for the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and then the American Grand National.”

Take a Min for Champion Chase Glory

Arguably the most impressive performer of the weekend card was Min, who powered to victory in the Dublin Chase by some 12 lengths from the field.

That victory ensured revenge was gained over Special Ned, who had beaten Willie Mullins’ charge last time out. More importantly though, Min demolished a field which contained some quality performers in Special Tiara, Yorkhill and others.

The seven-year-old was beaten into second by Altior in his only previous Cheltenham appearance back in 2016, but there has been plenty of upside shown by this French raider since and he looks perfectly capable of gaining revenge in a stellar Champion Chase renewal that may also include Douvan, Un De Sceaux and others.

Get the Hint About Samcro

Horse Racing Starting GateWhen a horse’s owner tells you ‘don’t believe the hype’, he is attempting to pour cold water on his charge’s chances and ensure the market doesn’t act too hastily.

That was what Michael O’Leary attempted to do with Samcro, an unbeaten six-year-old who has lain waste to all before thus far.

The Gordon Elliott trained gelding completed a sixth straight win at Leopardstown on Sunday, taking the spoils in convincing fashion in the Deloitte Novice Hurdle – his first Grade 1 triumph.

He has since been touted for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, but a tilt at the Ballymore is far more likely for a young horse that has never run on UK soil before. If you move fast, you might just snap up some of the 11/10 available on him to win on his Festival debut.

Mullins Unearths Latest Shooting Star in Blackbow

Willie Mullins has proven so successful at the Cheltenham Festival over the years that he can pretty much call any race his own, but the Champion Bumper is a renewal in which he has taken the spoils on eight separate occasions.

He has the current ante-post favourite in Blackbow (7/1), and the Irishman will no doubt have been delighted with what he saw from the five-year-old.

In just his second start, Blackbow took the honours in Saturday’s Goff Future Stars at Leopardstown, outstripping the field and eventually seeing off his only challenger to keep pace, Rhinestone.

The early signs are fantastic for this latest talent of the Mullins production line.