Faugheen 
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Ruby Walsh is confident Faugheen will claim his second BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle if he can reproduce his recent home work at Leopardstown.

The Willie Mullins-trained 10-year-old clinched the crown with a dominant performance two years ago and while injury kept him out of action until November, there were no signs his powers were on the wane when he made a spectacular return in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown.

However, he has a point to prove today after pulling up in the Ryanair Hurdle over the Christmas period.

Speaking at a press conference at the Westbury Hotel in Dublin, Paddy Power Racing ambassador Walsh said: “I would be a fully paid-up member of the Faugheen fan club. I think if he does what he is doing at home then he’ll do what Faugheen always does except once. He’s working really well and is in really good order.

“Of course there is a worry that the same thing will happen again. Everyone has a theory about what happened, but I would be only listening to Willie, John Codd and Paul (Townend). Paul said he never thought he was going, poor John Codd was absolutely dumbfounded and Willie can’t explain it.

“There was nothing you could put a finger on and I know if I was riding him I would blank out Christmas like it never happened.”

The Irish Champion Hurdle takes centre stage on the opening day of the inaugural Dublin Racing Festival, which brings together the former Irish Champion Hurdle fixture held in late January and the Unibet Irish Gold Cup meeting a couple of weeks later.

With seven Grade One races taking place across two days, Walsh believes it is a fantastic concept.

He said: “I think it can take off and have done since I first heard about it. Irish people in general are huge sport fans, and whatever sport it is we get on the back of what is going on. This is an amalgamation of two great days racing, and putting them into one weekend is a great idea.

“You look at the quality of the racing and the match-ups all the way through. I can’t find a weak race and that’s great.

“It’s Punchestown or Cheltenham squeezed down into two days without a Stayers’ Hurdle.”

One talking point in the run-up to the fixture has been the lack of British-trained runners, with just eight horses making the trip across the water to compete across the 15 races, but Walsh is not surprised.

He added: “I don’t think Cheltenham is a factor as to whether British trainers send horses over or not. I think at the minute the quality of horse in Ireland is so strong that I am not surprised the English horses have not come to take them on. They find it hard enough to beat them at Cheltenham on their own soil without travelling to Leopardstown.

“But that will go the other way – eventually the power will be back in the UK and they will be coming here and taking all the money.”

The aforementioned Faugheen will be part of a formidable team of 42 Mullins horses heading to Leopardstown this weekend as he looks to claw his way back into the race to be crowned champion trainer.

Gordon Elliott currently leads by over €500,000 and bookmakers make him odds-on to lift the crown for the first time, but Walsh warns against ruling out a Mullins fightback.

“I’m in the camp, so I’m a believer. There is huge money still on offer between Leopardstown, Fairyhouse, Punchestown. I think he has every chance but it will be difficult,” he said.

“He will have to pull back a bit this weekend, and he can’t afford to be getting too much further behind.”
Walsh himself will watch from the sidelines as he continues to recover from the broken leg he suffered in a fall at Punchestown in November, although there is light at the end of the tunnel.

He said: “If my surgeon is happy with the X-rays next week then I can start riding out again. Then it will be a matter of when I am ready to start (riding on the track). It could be the weekend of February 25 or March 4, and if it has to be March 11 then so be it.

“I dreamt about being back this weekend every now and again, but then reality would kick in. I love the big events and weekends like this have me feeling that I can’t wait to get back riding.”