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Faugheen, Douvan and Benie Des Dieux all retired

Owner Rich Ricci has announced the retirement of three of of his equine superstars in Faugheen, Douvan and Benie Des Dieux.

Faugheen in particular will go down as one of the most popular National Hunt horses of the modern era, with the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and back-to-back victories in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton featuring on a glittering CV.

It looked as though his racing career could be over in the spring of 2019 after he was found to be suffering from a heart problem when pulling up in the Aintree Hurdle.

But the decision to embark on a career over fences the following season at the age of 11 proved a masterstroke by trainer Willie Mullins, with Faugheen winning his first three chase starts including a memorable Grade One success at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival.

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He was beaten just a length into third place when bidding for a third Cheltenham Festival success in a pulsating renewal of the Marsh Novices’ Chase in March of last year – and while connections attempted to get him back, that proved to be his final outing.

Ricci, who owns Faugheen in partnership with his wife Susannah, told The Sun: “Faugheen meant a lot to Susannah, our son George and me. He was also the favourite horse of my nephew Peter and was the impetus of his falling in love with the sport.

“Not always the most elegant at a hurdle or a fence, he was a trier and knew he was a dude.

“My favourite memory was of his Grade One novice chase win at the 2020 Dublin Racing Festival. The noise and the sprinting of the crowd to the parade ring was something I will never forget.

“We have been blessed to have owned some special horses, but Faugheen will always have a special place amongst them.”

In all Faugheen won 17 of his 26 career starts and amassed over £1million in win and place prize-money.

Ricci also confirmed Douvan and Benie Des Dieux have also run their final races.

Douvan was poetry in motion at his brilliant best
Douvan was poetry in motion at his brilliant best (PA)

Douvan won on his first 13 appearances for Mullins, including Cheltenham wins in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Trophy.

However, he was a beaten odds-on favourite in the 2017 Queen Mother Champion Chase and has run only three times since, most recently winning the 2019 Clonmel Oil Chase.

Benie Des Dieux meanwhile won eight of her 10 starts for the all-conquering team, with her most notable triumphs coming in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil.

She fell at the final flight when seemingly set to successfully defend her Mares’ Hurdle title in 2019, and was just touched off by the brilliant Honeysuckle when bidding to regain her crown last year.

Mullins still has Punchestown hopes for Faugheen and Douvan

Willie Mullins will aim to have one possible last hurrah with Faugheen and Douvan at the Punchestown Festival.

Both have scaled the heights at Cheltenham in their careers, with Faugheen winning what is now the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle in 2014 and the Champion Hurdle the following season.

Douvan landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2015 and the Arkle a year later, but has been blighted by injury since his defeat in the 2017 Champion Chase.

Willie Mullins with Douvan
Willie Mullins with Douvan (PA)

Faugheen has been the busier of the two in recent seasons, finishing third in the Ryanair in March, while Douvan was last seen winning the Clonmel Oil Chase in November 2019.

“They’re not going to Cheltenham, but I don’t have any good news or bad news,” said Mullins.

“They are both tipping away, and myself and Rich (Ricci, owner of both) haven’t got round to talking about them yet.

“We’ll look at Punchestown. If things happen for Punchestown then all well and good, but if they don’t we’ll have a big chat then.”

Faugheen likely to miss Cheltenham

A sixth Cheltenham Festival appearance for Faugheen is highly unlikely this season.

Now 13, the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner met with a setback earlier in the season and he was not entered this week for the Ryanair Chase or the Gold Cup in March.

Having had his attentions turned to chasing late in life, Faugheen won two Grade Ones last season before finishing a close third to Samcro in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham.

Stablemate Douvan, another injury-prone star at the Willie Mullins yard, is also on the sidelines once more and is currently only in pre-training.

“They’ve both had setbacks. Faugheen is in the yard, he got clipped during the week. Cheltenham, with his profile, is it going to be tough?” assistant trainer Patrick Mullins said on Racing TV’s weekly Road To Cheltenham show.

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“If it comes about, great, but I suppose Willie thought at the moment it’s unlikely.

“Douvan is in pre-training – he’s coming back from another setback, so at this stage it would be unlikely.”

Mullins jnr partnered Douvan to win a Grade One novice chase in 2015, and was also on board when in front but falling in the 2018 Champion Chase.

Injuries have prevented Douvan from reaching the heights that once looked likely
Injuries have prevented Douvan from reaching the heights that once looked likely (Niall Carson/PA)

“I’ve been very lucky to sit on some very good horses, and I just think he is a different species,” he added.

“His race record does not really reflect how good a horse he was.”

Mullins also had news on useful novice mare Shewearsitwell, who is unbeaten in three but is also set to miss the Festival.

“Shewearsitwell is probably not going to make Cheltenham, which is a pity, as she has as much ability as the others,” he said.

“She had a bit of a setback. She missed the Royal Bond, and it’s going to be tight for Cheltenham, so it’s not definite she’ll make it – we’ll have to see.”

Patrick Mullins has struck up a real partnership with Sharjah and won a third Matheson Hurdle at Christmas
Patrick Mullins has struck up a real partnership with Sharjah, and won a third Matheson Hurdle at Christmas (PA Wire)

On a more positive note Mullins is looking forward to maintaining his partnership with Sharjah, who won a third Matheson Hurdle recently and is set for another crack at Honeysuckle before heading to Cheltenham.

“I’m definitely looking forward to a rematch with Epatante (at Cheltenham), but first we have to have a rematch with Honeysuckle in the Irish Champion Hurdle,” he said.

“He was electric in Leopardstown. He has his off days, and that’s probably why he goes under the radar. I somehow got him beat in an amateur handicap at Galway this year, but on his day he’s as good as anything around.

“In a smaller (Champion Hurdle) field with a better gallop (than last year), I’d like to think that brings him more into it.”

Douvan’s brother set to spark interest at Goffs sale

Jonbon, a full-brother to Douvan who made 15-length winning debut at Dromahane point-to-point on Sunday, has been supplemented for the Goffs UK November Sale.

The sale, which takes place at Yorton Farm in Wales on Thursday, will offer 74 pointers – and there is no disputing who the headline act is likely to be.

Bought for €140,000 at last year’s Tattersalls Ireland Derby Sale, the four-year-old has been trained by Ellemarie Holden and was ridden by Derek O’Connor.

“It’s been a bit mad this morning with the phone ringing and we’ve supplemented him for the sale,” said Holden on Monday.

“The sales seem to be holding up well so hopefully everything will go all right.

“Derek thinks very highly of the horse. If it wasn’t for Covid he would have run last season so he was ready to go.

“He’s a bit of a looker all right. He’s a nice horse and from the day he landed in the yard everything came so easy to him, he’s very straightforward.

“We were confident yesterday, but anything can obviously happen.

“I’d love it if he stayed in the yard – you never know!”