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Faugheen motors to Champion glory

Faugheen was imperious as he led home a Willie Mullins-trained one-two-three in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The 4-5 shot made all the running in the hands of Ruby Walsh, finding plenty when asked to take his unbeaten tally over hurdles to eight.

Arctic Fire (20-1) chased him hard up the hill to take second place, with dual winner Hurricane Fly (8-1) a gallant third.

Walsh said: "He's not slow, no one else wanted to make it and I was going to go my fractions not theirs.

"Willie is a genius and has a great team of staff around him.

"Faugheen is a wonderful horse. He has jumped better, he missed the second-last.

"It was a massive call not to ride Hurricane Fly. When you see what Hurricane Fly was doing at home, it was a big call to get off him.

"It was some training performance, to have the first two in the Supreme as well."

Saddling his third winner of a dream day, Mullins said: "What a team effort. Ruby said he was going to make it and win it. This is beyond our wildest dreams. It's just too good to be true."

Walsh made his intentions clear as he took Faugheen to the head of the line before the tapes went up. He set a steady pace with The New One and Jezki, last year's winner, not letting him get too far away until upping the tempo from three out.

There was no let up as Faugheen stormed clear in the straight to win in impressive fashion.

Victory in the feature completed a remarkable hat-trick for Mullins and Walsh in three of the first four races of the four-day Festival after the wins of Douvan and Un De Sceaux earlier on the card.

Mullins said: "I don't know if I'm the first to train the first three (in the Champion), but if I am it's fantastic. I was hoping one of them might win it.

"Faugheen was fantastic, Ruby was fantastic. He dictated the pace, did what he did when he wanted and quickened when he wanted.

"I thought Hurricane Fly ran a fantastic race throughout and Arctic Fire - I can't see a rib on him yet, so I think there is far more improvement in him than the rest of them."

Mullins added: "Ruby told me a month ago what he was going to do as it didn't look like anything else would make the running. When you have Ruby it's less of a concern, although it is a very hard thing to do to make the running in the Champion Hurdle.

"Faugheen was just awesome today and we know he's still improving. There's no reason to go novice chasing when you have a hurdler as good as this. He will definitely go to Punchestown.

"Ruby slowed it down and then quickened at the second-last and he put it to bed very quickly."

He went on: "Hurricane Fly ran a very good race, softer ground would suit him better and I still don't think I've got Arctic Fire as fit as I want him. We will look to Punchestown with him and then I think we will go back on the Flat and see if he's good enough for the Melbourne Cup."

Owner Rich Ricci had earlier seen his colours carried to victory by the Mullins-trained Douvan in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle and he hailed the achievement of the County Carlow maestro.

He said: "This is just the day of a lifetime. Ruby was great and Willie is just magic. He's a great horse and I think it's the first time anybody has trained the first three in the Champion Hurdle.

"He had the first two in the Supreme and he only ran one in the Arkle. I couldn't watch the race - I'll catch it on a replay!"


From Belfast Telegraph