Owner says he has no grounds for concern that top-class hurdler could have been nobbled before Christmas defeat






Faugheen is favourite to redeem himself in Saturday’s Irish Champion Hurdle.









Faugheen is favourite to redeem himself in Saturday’s Irish Champion Hurdle.
Photograph: PA Wire/PA

Today’s best bets, by Chris Cook

Rich Ricci has dismissed fears that Faugheen may have been ‘got at’, or doped to underperform by some malign influence, when he ran so disappointingly at Leopardstown over Christmas. There was some loose chat at the time that the dismal efforts by both Faugheen and Sizing John (from another stable) that week were so bad as to be a cause for concern but Ricci says he has total faith in the security systems put in place by Faugheen’s trainer, Willie Mullins.

“I know Willie and he comes from an era that was different in racing,” Faugheen’s owner said at Cheltenham on Saturday. “He does worry about it and he takes security very seriously.

“I never thought the horses were got at, I think it’s difficult in this day and age. He takes it so seriously, he really does, not just at his own barns but also when he’s travelling them and it’s a good precaution to have but I don’t think they were got at.”

Ricci prefers to take the view that disappointing efforts that week were caused by the yard having an uncharacteristic “flat” period. “Maybe they were just flat, for once. Maybe it’s just one of those things. Everybody has a patch like that and he hasn’t had one for a long time. I’m hopeful that’s what it is but his security is so good, I don’t worry they can be got at.”

Faugheen is the even-money favourite to bounce back with a win in Saturday’s Irish Champion Hurdle. Now a veteran at 10, he was pulled up two from home in Leopardstown’s Ryanair Hurdle last time, having been sent off at odds of 2-11.

Turning to today’s action, a couple of runners appeal to me at Hereford, starting with Rambling Rector (1.40) at 9-2 in the opener. This is an Irish points winner who ran below expectations in quite a decent bumper at Warwick in March.

I’m prepared to forgive that, on the basis he was always likely to improve for time and obstacles, and he’s interesting on this hurdles debut, especially with Warren Greatrex’s horses faring so well. The favourite, Tossapenny, went close at Southwell last month but comes from the Evan Williams yard that has since gone off the boil.

Another Venture (3.40) looks a good favourite for an interesting handicap chase later on the card. He’s got a decent record in soft-ground handicaps, following his success at Chepstow recently, and still looks fairly treated. Odds of 9-4 are fine, in view of the lack of threat posed by rivals. Spookydooky has had a wind op which might revive his fortunes but Jonjo O’Neill’s runners have generally been below par.

Latest trainer form table

Donald McCain 42% (24) 
Nick Williams 33% (12) 
Warren Greatrex 29% (24) 
Nicky Henderson 27% (30) 
Harry Fry 25% (16) 
Paul Nicholls 23% (13) 
Neil Mulholland 21% (24) 
Sue Smith 21% (24) 
Kim Bailey 21% (14) 
David Pipe 21% (14) 
Emma Lavelle 20% (15) 
Tim Vaughan 19% (16) 
Oliver Sherwood 18% (11) 
Ian Williams 16% (19) 
Dan Skelton 14% (35) 
Lucinda Russell 14% (29) 
Gary Moore 14% (28) 
Alan King 14% (21) 
Kerry Lee 14% (7) 
Brian Ellison 13% (16) 
Rebecca Curtis 13% (8) 
Dr Richard Newland 13% (8) 
Colin Tizzard 12% (17) 
Venetia Williams 8% (24) 
Nicky Richards 8% (13) 
Tom George 7% (15) 
Charlie Longsdon 5% (21) 
Jonjo O’Neill 4% (25) 
Nigel Twiston-Davies 4% (25) 
Evan Williams 0% (18) 
Philip Hobbs 0% (14) 
Peter Bowen 0% (9) 
Fergal O’Brien 0% (9) 
Ben Pauling 0% (7) 
Malcolm Jefferson 0% (6)

Each Monday through the core jumps season, we’re monitoring the relative success of 35 major jumps stables. The percentage figure is their win strike-rate for the last fortnight, while their total number of runners in that time is in brackets.


Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images Europe

Donald McCain has been one of the most profitable trainers to follow since I’ve been doing this list and he’s well worth his place at the top this week. The Cheshire trainer has had 10 winners in the past fortnight and only needs one more to match his total for the whole of last season.

Nick Williams had a big Saturday, thanks to Agrapart, and Warren Greatrex also continues to do well. Paul Nicholls is on the way back after a slow start and came within a head of a big handicap chase double on Saturday, Warrior’s Tale being narrowly beaten in the Great Yorkshire. Tim Vaughan and Oliver Sherwood have both climbed the table.

At the other end, something seems amiss in the Cotswold area, as neighbours Nigel Twiston-Davies and Fergal O’Brien are very short of winners. Ben Pauling and Jonjo O’Neill, who also train in the area, are also finding winners hard to come by. It’s a pity to see Philip Hobbs back down at the bottom after a mini-revival at the start of the month. He’s only had five runners in the past week and would surely have had more if his horses were all healthy again.

Hereford 
1.40 Rambling Rector 2.10 Report To Base 2.40 Jaune Et Bleue 3.10 Becauseshesaidso 3.40 Another Venture 4.10 Arthur Mac 4.40 Toby Lerone

Plumpton 
1.55 Weebill 2.25 Le Coeur Net 2.55 My Dance (nb) 3.25 Jully Les Buxy (nap) 3.55 Leo Luna 4.25 Be Daring

Wolverhampton 
4.50 Dalness Express 5.25 Mr Potter 6.00 Montague 6.30 Pattie 7.00 Technological 7.30 Abe Lincoln 8.00 Daring Guest



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