Sunday 24 February 2019

Faugheen still on course for festival

Faugheen’s owner Rich Ricci believes the horse will run in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Pic: racingpost.com
Faugheen’s owner Rich Ricci believes the horse will run in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. Pic: racingpost.com

Leading owner Rich Ricci remains hopeful Faugheen will bid to regain his crown in the Unibet Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.

The Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old was a brilliant winner of the two-mile showpiece in 2015, but was sidelined for the best part of two years after landing the Irish Champion Hurdle in January 2016.

He appeared to have lost none of his brilliant ability when making a spectacular reappearance in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown in November, but was pulled up in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown last Friday and his performance still has connections scratching their heads.

When asked whether Faugheen will make the Champion Hurdle, Ricci said: "Barring anything popping up of a more serious nature this week, absolutely. I think we'll crack on.

"Whether he goes to the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in the first week of February, or whether he'll go straight to Cheltenham, I don't know, but our intention at the moment is to crack on.

"He was fine after the race. We've gotten him home. He's normal. Everything's fine, which is good news. He's not lame. There are no leg issues.

"I'm just hoping that in the next day or two something comes out where he's been incubating a cold. I think that would be the best-case scenario."

At Cheltenham yesterday, Yanworth claimed a narrow victory in a thrilling renewal of the BetBright Dipper Novices' Chase at Cheltenham.

Alan King's Grade One-winning hurdler had made a fairly inauspicious start to his career over fences, winning despite failing to convince on his debut at Exeter before falling at the same venue.

His jumping was again far from perfect when second behind Willoughby Court at Newbury a month ago, but with Yanworth 5lb better off at the weights, the pair were 15-8 joint-favourites for the rematch.

Both horses travelled strongly for much of the two-mile-five-furlong journey and on this occasion it was Willoughby Court who made the first serious mistake four fences from the finish.

The two market leaders moved up to challenge Sizing Tennessee for the lead on the run to the second-last, but Willoughby Court weakened soon after and it was left for Yanworth to master his other rival.

King's charge was big and bold when he needed to be at the final obstacle and while he gave Sizing Tennessee hope by idling on the run-in, Barry Geraghty's mount passed the post a neck to the good.

Geraghty said: "He jumped better. Alan did a good bit of work with him with Yogi Breisner and I'd say it helped. At times he was very good, just at one or two he got in tight. He gave away a lot of ground at the third-last, he was slow, so he's improving."

At Cheltenham yesterday, jockey Tom Bellamy was suspended from riding after failing a breath test. The rider was due to partner Ballymalin and Splash Of Ginge at the meeting but he has now been referred to the British Horseracing Authority.

The official stewards' report read: "The sampling officer reported that Tom Bellamy provided a sample which was found to contain alcohol above the threshold level for breath samples. "The matter was referred to the head office of the BHA and Bellamy was suspended from riding for the rest of the day."

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