Faugheen was no stranger to dazzling on the big occasion, but as the curtains began to close on his decorated career, he saved one more moment of magic for his adoring home supporters, lighting up the Dublin Racing Festival with a heroic display that sent Leopardstown into a frenzy.
One of the best Champion Hurdle winners of modern times, injury setbacks saw him reinvented first as a staying hurdler and then a novice chaser, as his trainer Willie Mullins eked out Grade One-winning performances with the twilight of his career approaching.
Although a dual Cheltenham Festival scorer, it was Leopardstown that played host to some of his finest displays and he arguably saved his best until last at the Dublin track when his final outing in the Irish capital saw him bring the house down with a brilliant swansong success.
Sent novice chasing at the ripe old age of 11, Faugheen had made the perfect start to fencing and arrived at Leopardstown having dispatched Samcro to taste Grade One glory at Limerick over Christmas.
Eyeing more success at the highest level, Faugheen was sent off the 13-8 joint-favourite for the Flogas Novice Chase and showed all of the qualities and class that had made him such a mainstay of the National Hunt racing scene as he held off stablemate Easy Game for a fairytale victory that would go down in Irish racing folklore.
“Going into Leopardstown, we knew he had been in good form, but for him it was a big day,” said Joe Chambers, racing manager for Faugheen’s owners Rich and Susannah Ricci.
“You were kind of harking back to the Danoli days and days of yesteryear where people were just leaping over tables trying to take advantage of every vantage point. There are a few wonderful pictures of the crowd and they were however many deep around the ring, and every balcony and vantage point was filled.
“Paul (Townend) nearly came off him at the back of the last and it wasn’t without drama, but it was a wonderful day and a pretty emotional day as well. It was a day where I saw Willie get emotional and you don’t often see that.”
It was also a huge occasion for Townend, who in the early stages of his tenure as Closutton number one, finally got his highlight-reel moment aboard Faugheen, having watched on as Ruby Walsh and many of his weighing room colleagues enjoyed great days alongside the popular gelding.
“It was great for Paul as well, because he hadn’t actually ridden Faugheen that many times,” continued Chambers.
“Faugheen was very much a part of Ruby’s career and David (Mullins) had won a Grade One on him and Emmet (Mullins) had won a Grade Three on him and Patrick had won a Grade One as well on him.
“Paul and Danny (Mullins) were somewhat the odd ones out and ultimately, when the music stopped, Danny was the only one left standing.”
The noise reverberating around Leopardstown as Faugheen made a triumphant return to the winner’s enclosure that day could be heard for miles around and although their great warrior will always be associated with the track, Chambers points out Faugheen often received a hero’s reception wherever he went.
He said: “I think you could be anywhere (in the world) with a crowd like that and a horse like that to celebrate and it was just one of those days where everything came together.
“He reincarnated himself as a novice chaser and he had two great days really – you can’t forget the Grade One he won under Patrick (Mullins) at Limerick when he beat Samcro.
“At some tracks in Ireland, the more rural you get, the greater the affinity can be with horses – especially ones who have been there, climbed to the mountain top, fallen back and then come back and managed to achieve again.”
So, having reached the summit of the sport once again at Leopardstown, there was one final peak left to conquer, with his Flogas triumph signalling one last return to the Cheltenham Festival in a quest to add a third Prestbury Park victory to his CV.
Sent off the 3-1 favourite for the March Novices’ Chase in what would be the final start of his career, Faugheen would go down on his shield to finish third, as Samcro gained Limerick revenge and conjured up his own resurgence story in a race where Closutton stalwart Melon also made the podium.
Chambers added: “I think at Cheltenham in the novice chase, but for a mistake at the second-last, where he just didn’t meet the fence quite right and Samcro winged it, he could have gone out in another blaze of glory as well.
“He got a wonderful reception that day. There might have been a few thoughts privately amongst people (about retiring after Leopardstown), but I don’t recall anything specific being discussed about it.
“Part of me thinks it would be the natural thing to do, but then again why would you do that having won a Grade One with Cheltenham round the corner.”
A winner of 17 of his 26 career starts, he was given the title ‘The Machine’ after mercilessly destroying the opposition as he racked up a 10-race unbeaten sequence at the beginning of his time under rules.
He won 12 of his first 13 outings before injury agonisingly kept him sidelined for almost two years when arguably at his pomp.
However, such was his resilience and brilliance, Faugheen was still able to win Grade Ones at two miles, three miles and over fences upon his return, thanks to the sublime handling by Mullins and those at Closutton.
Having captured the hearts of the racing public due to his on-track exploits, he now welcomes them into his own home, residing at the Irish National Stud in retirement alongside fellow Closutton icon Hurricane Fly and the likes of Beef Or Salmon and Hardy Eustace.
Chambers added: “The fact he had been so successful and had been unbeaten and had this ‘machine’ moniker and a fan base, combined with his trials and tribulations and still having the resolution to come back and do it, is a testament to the horse and also a testament to Willie’s training of him.
“He was a wonderful animal and he is enjoying a great retirement at the Irish National Stud.
“He’s there with Hurricane Fly and a couple of others and they take really good care of him – and the people who were associated with him, and also people who were fans of him, are able to go and see him as much as they see fit.
“He was absolutely brilliant on his day and the way he won the Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown beating Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon – that was ultimately the day he hurt himself – but on the figures and ratings, it was a great performance.
“He gave us great days at Kempton when winning two Christmas Hurdles and also some wonderful days at Cheltenham – even the runs in defeat were great.”
Other Recent Posts by This Author:
- Aintree officials confident of dealing with any attempt at protest repeat
- Willie Mullins starting to formulate National plans
- Handicapper says to expect just a handful of British-trained National starters
- Long-term National plan coming together for Cromwell and Vanillier
- Elliott assembling bumper squad in search of fourth National