Faugheen facing a ‘big ask’

View from connections ahead of Sunday's BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown where Faugheen returns.

It's all systems go for Faugheen

Connections of Faugheen feel the long-absent champion faces a "big ask" to defend his crown in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old triumphed by 15 lengths in this Grade One contest 12 months ago, but was unable to bid for back-to-back victories in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham due to injury.

He makes his first appearance in 12 months this weekend and while he has upwards of a stone in hand on official ratings, the trainer's son and assistant Patrick Mullins is taking nothing for granted.

He said: "It's great to have him back and we've been happy with his work this week. It's a big ask for him on his first run back, taking on race-fit horses, but he needs to run.

"We've got him as fit as we can at home, but it is his first run for a year. It's all systems go."

Faugheen's price as favourite for the Champion Hurdle at Prestbury Park in March contracted earlier this week following the news his stable companion Annie Power will miss the Festival.

Jockey Ruby Walsh told Paddy Power: "Is there any extra pressure on Faugheen now? I'm pretty sure he doesn't know Annie Power is injured, but whatever he achieves will be on his own merits.

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"All the opposition will have a race-fitness edge over him that's for sure, but Faugheen is top class. He's rated 176, but whether he can run to that rating first time out after 12 months out is hopefully what we'll find out."

Faugheen is one of three runners for the Closutton team as Mullins bids for a sixth successive Irish Champion Hurdle success.

Nichols Canyon inflicted a shock defeat on Faugheen in last season's Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, but the tables were turned spectacularly here a year ago.

Nichols Canyon won the Morgiana Hurdle for a second time in November, but proved no match for the Henry de Bromhead-trained Petit Mouchoir in the Ryanair Hurdle here last month.

The champion trainer also saddles Footpad.

"I think you can draw a line through Nichols Canyon's last run," said Mullins junior.

"He seems in good form at home and if he comes back to his best form he'd have a big chance.

"Footpad will have to step up on what he's shown so far, but he's a Grade One winner at the track and we're hoping he can pick up a share of the prize-money."

Petit Mouchoir, a former Mullins inmate, was hugely impressive over the festive period and jockey David Mullins hopes his fitness advantage gives him a real chance of toppling Faugheen.

"He was brilliant the last day in Leopardstown and if he turns up there in the same form again, he'll put up another good show," Mullins told At The Races.

"Faugheen has been off the track 12 months, so hopefully we might catch him out for a bit of fitness."

The five-strong field is completed by Joseph O'Brien's Triumph Hurdle winner of last season Ivanovich Gorbatov, who was third behind Petit Mouchoir and Nichols Canyon a month ago.

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