Faugheen ridden by Paul Townend on way to winning The Flogas Novice Steeplechase Bryan Keane/INPHO
High praise

'Freak' Faugheen sparks tears of joy on magical day at Leopardstown

Willie Mullins was full of praise for ‘one of the most special winners’ he has seen.

ONE CAN ONLY speculate about the buzz in Istanbul in 2011 when the noise created at the Türk Telekom Arena broke the decibel record, notching up an almighty 131.76dB, making it the loudest stadium sound recorded.

In Irish racing, one would struggle to beat the roar for Danoli winning the 1997 Hennesy at Leopardstown, but the old place was perhaps rocking more so than in all the years since today as Faugheen, 12 years young, landed a Grade 1 over fences. For novices.

When his stablemate Adamant Approach was still winning at 13, Ruby Walsh used to say “he’ll be a better horse next year”.

Perhaps we are revelling so much in what he is doing at 12 that we have not countenanced what Faugheen might be doing as a teenager. These pesky teenagers.

Men were crying in the parade ring after he battled bravely to beat stable ally Easy Game in the Flogas Novice Chase, Joe Chambers, racing manager for owner Rich Ricci, particularly emotional.

“Horses like him are seldom born never mind bought,” Chambers said. “There is no rhyme nor reason to Faugheen. A freak. We all need to just enjoy it.”

And boy, and girl, did they enjoy it. I can never remember any post-race celebration like the one afforded to Faugheen, and even if Willie Mullins has seen many things in over 60 years of racing, not many races can compare to this, if any.

“It’s probably one of the most special winners that I’ve ever had,” reflected the champion trainer.

“I should have sent him over fences last year and I got sidetracked. I didn’t want to retire him without going over fences as that is what we bought him for.

“Look what he can do now at 12. I should have gone earlier but there you are. People want to retire horses at 10, 11 or 12 but to me they have plenty of life in them if they haven’t used up the mileage as younger horses.

“They can go much longer than people think and he’s the living proof of it.

“He’s got stamina, he’s got speed, he can jump. He’s got the whole package and a will (to win) a bit like Un De Sceaux.”

Cheltenham is not the be-all: Mullins was almost irked by being asked where Faugheen might run there, as if it might take some of the high away at him winning a Grade 1 on home turf. The Dublin Racing Festival is a big deal.

Everyone seemed to own Faugheen. The parade ring was almost standing room only, Dublin footballers John Small, Dean Rock and Ciaran Kilkenny smuggled into the winners’ circle to enjoy a rare sporting moment.

Eddie O’Leary and Gordon Elliott had both been critical of the chase track Saturday but were quick to praise the job Leopardstown had done after Delta Work edged Kemboy in a gripping feature. Everything is easier in victory.

Jack Kennedy, who was superb over Christmas here, putting to bed the many horrible injury-enforced days he has sat out, actually reckoned he got there too soon on Delta Work, but O’Leary, racing manager to Gigginstown, was not buying it.

“Hopefully there is more in him. He is settling more and more. He jumped very well, Jack gave him a super, super ride. It was a proper, proper race. In fairness to Leopardstown, they’ve done a fantastic job with the ground today.”

rich-richie-celebrates-faugheen-winning Rich Ricci celebrates Faugheen winning the The Flogas Novice Steeplechase Bryan Keane / INPHO Bryan Keane / INPHO / INPHO

Delta Work was supplementing a cosy win here at Christmas. He is now as low as 4/1 for the Magners Gold Cup, a race Elliott has won in the past with Don Cossack.

Kemboy ran a nice race in second, Presenting Percy shaping well in third. The Gold Cup of 2020 has many layers.

This is truly a game of vicissitudes and Dallas Des Pictons’ unseat in the penultimate heat left Kennedy on the floor, subsequently taken to St Vincent’s Hospital for an X-ray and further assessment to his right leg. Quite a way to celebrate.

JP McManus took the opening juvenile hurdle with A Wave Of The Sea, a race notable for Aspire Tower, who was sent off 1/3, falling when under pressure at the last. There was another mild upset in the novice hurdle, with Mullins grabbing another Grade 1 in the shape of Asterion Forlonge, a bonny grey who is getting better and better.

This was a serious performance.

Mullins said the only reason Asterion Forlonge was running in this race was because there was none over two and a half miles. One thing the Dublin Racing Festival has over Cheltenham is that it enjoys a greater concentration of talent, even if a crowd today of over 12,000 shows that it has some way to go to fill the place, even when Faugheen is running.

Elliott doubled up in the bumper with Darling Daughter, a 25/1 chance despite representing one of the most powerful alliances in racing. This was the final leg of a treble for Elliott, who remains ahead of Mullins in the title race, but there is a long way to go.

As the hacks filed our final few words, Robert Hall, emotional for reasons other than Faugheen, quietly greeted the pressroom with last goodbyes. After 30 years on the box, Robert is finished with RTÉ.

One of the gentleman of the game, he can be overcome by regret that pension age is upon him. Or he could look at Faugheen.

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