Faugheen blasts back in fine style
We saw a lot of good horses this weekend but at Punchestown yesterday we saw one of the best in training. Faugheen drew a big crowd and he put on a show, defying his 665-day absence to win the Grade One Morgiana Hurdle in fine style.
Described as "unfinished business" in the lead-up to the race by owner Rich Ricci, the Morgiana of 2015 was the only race in which Faugheen had tasted defeat.
More importantly, this was about seeing the nine-year-old back on track and somewhere near as good as he was when we last saw him in January last year. It was a perfect start.
Winning trainer Willie Mullins was just relieved to have the 2015 Champion Hurdle winner back in the winners' enclosure and on a chilly afternoon the eight-time Grade One winner got the warm reception he deserved.
Mullins admitted; "It's just nice to get him back out on track and show people what we've been saying wasn't rubbish.
"Sometimes you get the feeling that people don't believe you but he was ready to do that last May and June - probably readier than he was today - but we had to let him down again and bring him back up."
The slight change to this weekend's Faugheen plan was the absence of Ruby Walsh after the champion jockey broke his leg off Ricci's mare Let's Dance on Saturday.
"Paul Townend is no super-sub, he's a champion jockey and a number one in his own right," Ricci said, before adding. "I'm devastated for Ruby, I really am, we spoke so much about this day."
Faugheen's injury history will have everyone connected to him just praying he can get back to Cheltenham in March for the Champion Hurdle he is now as short as 2/1 favourite for with BoyleSports and 11/4 with Betfair.
Walsh's current injury will definitely have him back by then. He remains in hospital but does not require surgery.
Walsh, who had two falls earlier on the card, was attended to on the track before being taken to hospital in Naas for X-rays. He was then transferred to Tallaght Hospital in Dublin.
Turf Club chief medical officer Dr Adrian McGoldrick said: "The leg doesn't require surgery, which is very reassuring. It's in a plaster cast.
"It's too early to say how long he'll be out for. He'll have X-rays again in a week's time and we'll see what's what.
"We just have to be guided by his consultants."
It's even possible Walsh will somehow try to get back by Christmas but it's more likely he will have to wait until March to get back on Faugheen.
"I've no plan really, we just wanted to get over today," Mullins said.
Ricci was on a similar line. "I'll speak to Willie but today was the day. Leopardstown at Christmas is definitely possible but I wouldn't want him running too much before Cheltenham."
It's a shame, if understandable, that we won't see much of Faugheen this term, especially when you see a crowd four or five deep tryng to get a glimpse of him yesterday. But it is a pleasure to see him back to his best.
"He didn't just win hanging on, he went out there and made the running against three horses who were super fit and the race was set up for any of those to come and beat him," added Mullins.
They could not beat him, as he powered up the straight to score by 16 lengths.
It was a weekend that threw up many talking points and we were treated to a new favourite for the RSA Chase, JLT Novices' Chase, Ryanair Chase and the Triumph Hurdle.
But it was the new Champion Hurdle favourite we all wanted to see and the horse nicknamed 'The Machine' didn't disappoint.