Cheltenham, Champion Day 2018....the time inches closer towards 3.30pm and the crowd’s energy levels begin to pick up again.
It's always a long day at the Festival – tired feet, queues at the bars and beaten dockets all add to a sense of fatigue with the crowd as the day wears on.
The media likes to portray Cheltenham as a cauldron of noise and passion. To a point, that’s true. But the crowd needs to be fed with all that makes racing great – shocks, comebacks, returning heroes and supremely dominant performances.
There were two main protagonists before the 2018 Champion Hurdle, Buveur D'Air and Faugheen. When the race was over, however, there was only one, Nicky Henderson's two-time champion. There was a sense of deflation in the crowd, with the exception of those who had 'gone big' on Buveur D'Air. Miracles don’t always happen.
Buveur D'Air favourite for third successive Champion Hurdle
Buveur D'Air is undoubtedly a great horse, one of the best hurdlers we have seen in recent times. But, even should he win a third Champion Hurdle in 2019 (he is 7/2 ante-post favourite with 888sport), he will still not be held in as high affection as Faugheen. It’s a question of romance, not talent. Faugheen is the Alex Higgins to Steve Davis, the John McEnroe to Bjorn Borg.
That’s not to say that Faugheen spent his career an underdog, far from it. Rather it serves as a testament to the memories he gave to the fans. There was a visible will to see him recapture the lightning in a bottle, the magic that saw him become one of the greats in 2015. Indeed, has any horse of the modern era been more associated with the word 'comeback'?
There was a sense of finality after Faugheen’s defeat in the Champion Hurdle. That sense actually came before the last, as five horses, including Buveur D'Air, passed Faugheen like a slingshot. Heads, mostly Irish, were shaking among the crowds; The Machine was now finished.
Tremendous win at Punchestown for Faugheen
Horse racing, of course, doesn’t always follow the script. Around six weeks later at Punchestown, Willie Mullins put Faugheen into the Grade 1 Champion Stayers' Hurdle. Faugheen’s odds of 11/2, third favourite behind Penhill and Bacardys, smacked of 'just in case'. He had been backed down from 10/1, but it seemed the smart money would go elsewhere.
Faugheen didn't read the script. Not only did he win, he trounced Penhill, Stayers' Hurdle winner at Cheltenham, by 13 lengths. Faugheen didn't even seem to break into a sweat with his first win over 3 miles since his novice days. If anything, he looked like he had plenty left to spare as he passed the finish line.
It makes the horses betting odds for the 2019 Stayers Hurdle' required reading as we approach the start of the national hunt season. Faugheen has been made 5/1 favourite by 888sport and others, followed by Penhill (7/1), Apple’s Jade (10/1) and Supasundae (12/1). Punters are still somewhat stunned.
The significance of it cannot be underestimated. If Faugheen goes on to win the Stayers’ next year, then he will have a story to rival that of Sprinter Sacré in 2016. The thing to remember is that punters trust Willie Mullins. If the legendary Irish trainer says that Faugheen is equipped to win the Stayers’, then those odds will tumble. It will be worth keeping an eye on things through the winter, but one last tilt at the top of racing is the least that Faugheen deserves.
Article Posted on Monday 10th September 2018 @ 10.03
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