Racing UK ambassador Ruby Walsh reflects on Faugheen’s seasonal debut in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and provides an update on some of Willie Mullins’ leading contenders for the season ahead.

We have had a few disappointments over the last few weeks but not everything always goes to plan, and I’d rather have the bad luck at this time of the year.

Faugheen’s work at home was very good prior to the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown and we thought he still had the speed for two miles.

He travelled with great enthusiasm and it was a truly run race, but I suppose it was disappointing how quickly he was picked up by Sharjah who I was pleasantly surprised by.

Faugheen galloped all the way to the line and I think there will be plenty of races to be won with him going back up in trip. He won over three miles at Punchestown in April, and won over that trip as a novice, so there’s no reason why he can’t go back up to three miles.

Willie Mullins’ intentions were to always go back up in trip with Faugheen, it was just he was the one that was ready to run out of the big guns on Sunday.

He’s not the first horse to want further as he’s got older. Kauto Star won the Tingle Creek the same season he won his first Gold Cup, but by the time he won his fifth King George you couldn’t have seen him winning a Tingle Creek.

Champion Hurdle:

Melon found only Buveur D'Air too good in last season's Champion Hurdle
Melon found only Buveur D’Air too good in last season’s Champion Hurdle

Melon is a live contender for the Champion Hurdle and he was only beaten a neck in last season’s renewal.

I suppose when a horse gets beat in the Champion Hurdle people think they’re not good enough but he’s still a horse that is definitely open to improvement.

Laurina was probably the best of our novices last season and she was undefeated. The ratings would suggest she has to improve to be a Champion Hurdle contender but there’s no reason why she can’t as she looks stronger now and has summered well.

She answered every question she was asked last year and has lots of potential.

Benie Des Dieux in great form:

Benie Des Dieux is in great order and has been working really well. She’s also entered in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle along with Faugheen at Fairyhouse on December 2.

It was her first run for a long time over hurdles at Cheltenham and she improved after that run before winning at Punchestown last season.

She also has the option of going over fences and is three from three over the larger obstacles since joining Willie.

Draconien one to look forward to over fences:

He looked really good when he won the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown and schooled well over fences when I rode him a few days ago.

He’s a Grade One winner over hurdles and attacks his fences so he could be anything.

Footpad on track for Leopardstown:

It is best to put a line through Footpad's seasonal debut at Naas
It is best to put a line through Footpad’s seasonal debut at Naas

The overreach he suffered when falling in the Poplar Square Chase at Naas this month was quite tender and he was sore afterwards, but it’s a short-term injury rather than a long-term one.

Willie is hoping to have him ready for the Paddy Power Dial A Bet Chase at Leopardstown on December 27.

I would say you have to put a line through Footpad’s run at Naas as he made a bad mistake early on and never got back into a rhythm, but you must give credit to the winner Saint Calvados.

Bellshill a possible Gold Cup contender:

I don’t know whether Bellshill is as good as Might Bite or Native River. He wasn’t quite as good as Might Bite as a novice as he was beaten quite emphatically by him in the RSA Chase.

However, I think Bellshill has improved since then. I rode him this morning and he’s in good order. He won at Fairyhouse last season and was unlucky in the Irish Grand National before winning the Punchestown Gold Cup.

He ended last season as probably our top chaser and Patrick Mullins pointed out to me recently that Bellshill’s results are much better going right handed.

I’m not sure where he will make his seasonal debut, but the John Durkan at Punchestown on December 9 is an option.

You would hope he turns into a Gold Cup contender.

Novice hurdlers:

We had a good team of bumper horses last season and when you have good bumper horses you tend to have good novice hurdlers the following season.

Annamix has been the talking horse for a long time and there’s a few new horses from France that could be stars.

Tornado Flyer and Carefully Selected looked stayers in bumpers and they will probably go up in trip this season. Blackbow is a brilliant jumper; he’s very quick and athletic and will probably stay over two miles.

The potential is still there for them all at the moment.

Next Destination set to go novice chasing:

I'm hoping Next Destination turns into an RSA Chase contender this season
I’m hoping Next Destination turns into an RSA Chase contender this season

He will go novice chasing this season and has schooled brilliantly.

He was very good over three miles at Punchestown on his final start last season and trip was on the sharp side for him when he finished third behind Samcro at the Festival but galloped all the way to the line.

When I got off him at Cheltenham, I thought he had RSA written all over him. I hope I’m right.


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