The Cheltenham Gold Cup is a potential “dream” target for Faugheen, with the remarkable veteran all set to return for another campaign.
It is five and a half years since the Willie Mullins-trained superstar won the Champion Hurdle at Prestbury Park, one of countless Grade One victories over the smaller obstacles.
He looked set for retirement after being pulled with a heart problem up at Aintree in April of last year, but he roared back tremendously last season – winning his first three starts over fences before finishing a close-up third in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.
Faugheen will turn 13 in little over two months’ time, but Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, insists there is no sign his powers are on the wane on the gallops at Closutton.
Speaking on a National Hunt season preview press call, Mullins said: “Faugheen is back in and 100 per cent. John Codd, who looks after him and rides him out, is absolutely over the moon with him.
“If he shows that he’s still got all the enthusiasm and ability that he had last year, we’ll probably go again, and if he doesn’t, he doesn’t owe anyone anything.
“He won two Grade Ones last year and was placed in Cheltenham, and on another day he could have been closer.
“I look at his form rather than his age – and what he is showing us at home.”
Faugheen will, of course, need to step into open company over fences this season.
Asked whether he could see the long-time stable star lining up for the Gold Cup, Mullins added: “It’s a possibility, we’ll have to take it step by step.
“I don’t know where Willie is going to go with him for his first run. Hopefully there’s a few extra second-season novice chases this year and one of those could be an option.
“That (Gold Cup) would be the dream – it would be incredible, but he could be a Ryanair Chase horse and there are plenty of good prizes out of Cheltenham as well.
“At the moment all options are open. John Codd knows him better than anyone and would be able to tell us straight away if he thinks the fire has gone, but at the moment it’s still burning very brightly.”
Should Faugheen run in the Gold Cup he would be attempting to dethrone his stablemate, Al Boum Photo, who has won the last two renewals and will follow a tried and trusted path back to the blue riband.
“I think you’ll see him (Al Boum Photo) at Tramore on New Year’s Day. It’s a plan that seems to work, we stumbled across it because of that very dry winter we got a couple of years ago,” said Mullins.
“We had lovely soft ground in Tramore and then he was declared for the Irish Gold Cup, but was taken out of the day because of the ground, so he ended up going straight to Cheltenham and completely by chance the programme was born.
“He followed it again last year and it worked, so why not go again?
“This fellow doesn’t stand out from the crowd. He’s not overly big or flashy, he’s quite plain and not a fantastic jumper, but in March in Cheltenham he doesn’t miss.
“I can’t see any reason why he can’t do it again with luck in running.”
Mullins also hopes another Gold Cup-type horse, Kemboy, can put a disappointing last season behind him.
He said: “For whatever reason last year he never seemed to travel and jump the same as he did the year before. Maybe that was because the ground was very dry two years ago and that suited him.
“We’ll be looking at all those big Grade One chases in Ireland.”
Over two miles Chacun Pour Soi is the big hope, having been ruled out of the Queen Mother Champion Chase in March at the 11th hour.
“He got a foot bruise in Cheltenham. It’s a 24- or 36-hour thing and it was just a case of very bad timing. He would have gone to Punchestown no problem,” said Mullins.
“The way the Champion Chase worked out was disappointing as Altior didn’t run and Defi Du Seuil was disappointing on the day, so it looked like it was a nice opportunity.
“I’d imagine his season will be very similar to last year and we’ll try to get him back to Cheltenham for some unfinished business.
“He’s only run a handful of times over fences, but his jumping is fantastic and to me, he’s our best chance of winning a Champion Chase.”
In the same ownership is Min, who could have Kempton on his agenda at Christmas.
Asked about King George, Mullins said: “Possibly. He wasn’t stopping in the Ryanair. It hasn’t really been discussed as of yet, but I know Rich (Ricci) is always keen to go over to Kempton.
“I imagine it will be all roads back to the Ryanair. The John Durkan at Punchestown (which he has won twice) is there and you’ve got the good races in Leopardstown at Christmas and at the Dublin Racing Festival.”
Plans are less certain, however, for Douvan, who yet again has not proved straightforward to get fit.
“He is currently on the sidelines. We’re hoping to get him back later in the season, but he’s been frustrating,” said Mullins.
“He hasn’t had any big, serious injuries, (just) lots of little niggly things. There’s been nothing retirement-worthy, so we’re still hoping.
“We got him back for Clonmel last year and he was very good. If we can get him back another time this year, it would be great.”