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Friday 15 December 2017

Cheltenham 2015: All set for a massive first day

Mullins looks to hold all the aces as Festival opens in style

Un De Sceaux
Un De Sceaux

When history books covering the sport of horse racing are being penned many years from today, I'd be absolutely astonished if there isn't more than one reason to mention the opening day of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival.

Douvan has been nominated as potentially the most exciting horse Willie Mullins has ever brought to Cheltenham, - by the trainer himself - Un De Sceaux has the capabilities to be one of the most impressive winners of the week and possibly even of Cheltenham history, Annie Power is looking to 'do a Quevega' while Faugheen is unbeaten and a short priced favourite to maintain that record in the feature race of the opening day, the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

With the exception of the other connections in the race, I think it's fair to say that anyone with an interest in the sport would love the headlines to be all about Hurricane Fly on Wednesday morning but with the ground not coming up soft as he'd prefer it at this stage of his life, this may just be one step too far for the 11-year-old this season although you can have no doubt that Paul Townend won't be thinking like that.

Ruby Walsh had to make his decision and Faugheen, the horse nicknamed 'The Machine' is unsurprisingly the one he has opted for. It's a case of youth over experience for Walsh. The up and coming, unbeaten, and in his opinion, quicker seven-year-old who could be the horse that the historians are waxing lyrical about in years to come.

At some Cheltenham previews, Faugheen was being billed as the new Istabraq which is pretty insane considering the boot full of Grade One's that Hurricane Fly has to his credit, but if he can win the Champion Hurdle tomorrow, he will have taken the first step to emulating the greats.

It's hard to believe that a winner of a three-mile novice hurdle on heavy ground at Limerick over Christmas could one day develop into a potential Champion Hurdle winner but Rich Ricci's Faugheen is looking to buck a few trends.

You've to go all the way back to 1993 when Granville Again won the Champion Hurdle for Martin Pipe and Peter Scudamore to find a Champion Hurdle winner that had yet to run in the calendar year but after toying with the option of giving Faugheen a run after his Christmas Hurdle win at Kempton, Mullins and Walsh felt he was experienced enough and we'll find out how right they were tomorrow afternoon.

Faugheen's price is certainly on potential rather than on hard evidence and what he has beaten and possibly also on the fact that reigning champion, Jezki, has failed three times to beat Hurricane Fly this season and The New One was less than impressive when winning at Haydock last time out.

The last seven winning favourites of the Champion Hurdle have all been Irish trained and Faugheen is looking to bring that up to eight and he is hard to oppose.

A winner of the Herald Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown last season, Faugheen was expected to embark on a chasing career this term but the decision to leave him over hurdles has looked a divine one so far and tomorrow should well define that.

BOMBARDING

A bad day for Willie Mullins tomorrow and bookmakers could well take Ireland out of any financial difficulties on their own.

The Closutton team are bombarding Cheltenham with impossible to oppose favourites tomorrow afternoon and Un De Sceaux is arguably the most exciting of the lot.

It'll be a first trip to the Cotswolds for the seven-year-old who has that heart-stopping style of racing from the front that has brought so many around to the opinion that he wins with a clear round of jumping.

Un De Sceaux would still be unbeaten had he not tipped up on his chasing debut at Thurles but two flawless rounds of jumping at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown since have meant that fears of him failing to get around Cheltenham have minimised dramatically.

With his trailblazing style, there will always be some element of doubt in the mind that he might just catch the top of one of the fences and his race could be over, but as far as novice chasers go, Un De Sceaux's Leopardstown performance was as intelligent as they come when he met fences short and long and handled each situation like a natural and in doing so he swatted away classy opposition in Clarcam and Gilgamboa. He most certainly does win if he gets around and on the Leopardstown evidence, he wins.

CHELTENHAM TUESDAY

1.30: Douvan

2.05: Un De Sceaux

2.40: Black Thunder

3.20: Faugheen

4.00: Annie Power

4.40: The Job Is Right

5.15: Thomas Crapper

cheltenham tuesday

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