Faugheen bids for perfect finale
Willie Mullins reports Faugheen to be doing "everything right" ahead of his bid to bring a magnificent season to the perfect end in Friday's Queally Group Celebrating 35 Years In Naas Punchestown Champion Hurdle.
The seven-year-old won at Cheltenham and Punchestown last spring, but the champion trainer revealed he was unsure at that stage whether his charge would be able to scale the heights of his brilliant stable star Hurricane Fly.
However, Faugheen has proved himself at the top level this season with victories in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham and will be long odds-on to maintain his unbeaten record on the penultimate day of the Festival.
"Faugheen seems in very good form. He's been doing everything right," Mullins told At The Races.
"I always thought Hurricane Fly was the best thing we ever had - a machine - and he would do that at home. Faugheen is a point-to-pointer and he doesn't work like that at home.
"Hurricane Fly's Flat form was something else to bring to the hurdling game and then you look at Faugheen, who has no pedigree and won a point-to-point.
"He certainly didn't take my eye when I first saw him and he didn't take my eye all last year. I know he won in Cheltenham, but he was like two boards clapped together. There was no meat on him or anything.
"Hurricane Fly was a ball of muscle all the time, Faugheen was just a plain, ordinary horse, but when he gets on the racetrack he's able to gallop.
"After a summer's grass he had some flesh on him and I thought if I could keep him like that, he might go on and be the horse everyone else thinks he is and that's what he did."
Faugheen is the star attraction in a five-runner field but Jezki's likely defection means the only realistic threat comes from stable companion Arctic Fire, who was runner-up in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham before suffering a heavy final-flight fall in the Aintree Hurdle.
Mullins is keeping his fingers crossed that tumble has not left a mark.
He said: " Arctic Fire had a tough race and a horrific fall in Aintree. He looks to have bounced back from that and he's improving all the time.
"The first time I saw a rib on Arctic Fire was saddling him in Liverpool, that's how fat he's been all season and that's why I think there's so much more improvement in him.
"The thing I'm worried about is that when push comes to shove, he might still be sore from Aintree."
David Pipe's Dell' Arca and the Gordon Elliott-trained Tiger Roll can both be backed at 100-1 and complete the field.