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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.”

No rush to make plans for Faugheen following setback

There will be no heroic performance at Christmas from Faugheen this year with Willie Mullins’ veteran recuperating from a setback.

The 2015 Champion Hurdle winner turns 13 in a few weeks but remains in training alongside a galaxy of other stars at Mullins’ Closutton yard.

He went novice chasing at an advanced age last season and having won on his chasing debut at Punchestown he went to Limerick for a Grade One over Christmas and beat Samcro by 10 lengths for a hugely-popular success.

He then topped that by winning at the Dublin Racing Festival and went down by just a length to Samcro at Cheltenham in the Marsh Novices’ Chase.

Patrick Mullins rode him at Limerick and the assistant trainer to his father said at an event to publicise Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting: “He had a little setback at the end of October.

“We’re just taking our time with him very much, so he won’t be out at Christmas. We’re just having to take our time.

“We’ll just have to start again with him and if he’s in great form we’ll look for a race then, but he won’t be out at Christmas.”

Fabulous Faugheen gearing up for another campaign

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.

Ruby Walsh celebrates winning the Champion Hurdle with Faugheen in 2015
Ruby Walsh celebrates winning the Champion Hurdle with Faugheen in 2015 (Nick Potts/PA)

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.

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“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.”

Chacun Pour Soi had to miss the Champion Chase with a bruised foot
Chacun Pour Soi had to miss the Champion Chase with a bruised foot (Niall Carson/PA))

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.”