Christmas stroll for Faugheen
Faugheen is as low as even money in places for the Champion Hurdle after a breathtaking display in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton Park.
Trained by Willie Mullins, the soon-to-be seven-year-old stretched his unbeaten career record to eight with arguably his most impressive display to date.
Mullins is in the enviable position of also housing the great Hurricane Fly, and while he may be nearing the end of his reign, the dual champion is still a threat in his back yard of Leopardstown, meaning Faugheen has run twice in Britain this season.
Having won at Ascot despite being described by Mullins as "fat", he was sent off the 4-11 favourite on what looked his stiffest test with Fighting Fifth winner Irving and Elite Hurdle hero Purple Bay in opposition.
However, Ruby Walsh knew what was underneath and as the others struggled with the pace set by Blue Heron, with Irving being pulled up, Faugheen cruised alongside him before sprinting clear to beat Purple Bay by eight lengths, with a blunder at the last barely breaking his stride.
Mullins said: "It's probably the best run of his career so far and I think he is improving all the time. With regards to a run before Cheltenham, I'm very open minded."
Winning owner Rich Ricci added: "That was good to watch."
When told of his price for the Champion, he said: "Is he really? There's still Hurricane Fly and Jezki to think about.
"It was a big test today but he was very impressive and we're lucky to have him, he's something else. He's something to look forward to, that's for sure."
Walsh said: "He jumped great barring the last, but the race was over. He does not lack speed or pace.
"He won at Punchestown and people forget that is a fast hurdle track, he won a two-mile novice there so the form was there for all to see. He's a very good horse and a pleasure to ride.
"Hurricane Fly is an outstanding horse, him and Jezki are high-class horses and you can't forget The New One, either."
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls said of Irving: "Nick (Scholfield) felt he might have tweaked himself, which is why he pulled him up."