WITH the Cheltenham Festival now 24 days away, the Sun Racing team will be bringing you their ‘Festival 50’ every day between now and 10 March.
We will salute the Prestbury Park heroes that made us fall in love with the Festival, all the way until the ‘Cheltenham roar’ signals that the wait is finally over.
Number 23: Faugheen
Where do you start with this legend?
Not many horses get nicknames that stick through the years but the Faugheen ‘The Machine’ is arguably the most famous of all.
And that’s not all, but largely, down to his Festival heroics in the famous Rich Ricci pink and green silks that once a year Festival punters would latch onto in blind faith.
The horse was sent off favourite for it’s first sixteen starts for Willie Mullins. That says a lot.
His first foray into the Cheltenham Festival came in the 2014 Neptune Novices’ Hurdle. Those ‘is this Ruby and Mullins?’ punters were on. He was the 6-4 jolly in a decent renewal.
He made a mockery of his rivals. Walsh hardly had to move a muscle as they cruised around the two-and-a-half miles to bring up a famous treble for Mullins and the team.
But this was just the start of his journey, and longevity is everything in horses.
Despite indicating he’d go chasing, Mullins stuck to hurdles and a Champion Hurdle campaign was mapped out for the following season.
A facile win in the Grade 2 Coral Hurdle at Ascot followed by another rout in the Christmas Hurdle showed the Machine was in full working order and his novice campaign was no flash in the pan.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle was built up as the race of the meeting.
Faugheen was the new kid on the block but he’d bullied everything out of his way so far and punters expected more of the same.
But he was coming up against defending champ Jezki and The New One who was still reeling from a horror trip the year before.
It was yet another Walsh display of wizardry. He took the field along and no one dared challenge him. He dictated as he liked, the rest is history.
Two out he made a sloppy error and a few pounced on their chance. But it was slim pickings and the ‘Machine’ quickly got into gear.
He showed his devastating turn of foot and at the age of seven looked to have the racing world in front of him. It was spellbinding.
Mullins would also have the second and third home in Arctic Fire and Hurricane Fly. All in a days work.
But horses are fragile things and injury plagued the horse for a number of years. When he was fit and firing, still little could live with him but it meant he wouldn’t feature at the Festival again until 2018.
He was a disappointing sixth behind Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle but he had had a horrific campaign.
A few would have pulled stumps, but a magical win in the Irish Stayers’ Hurdle that spring opened more doors for the Machine.
He only managed third to Paisley Park in the 2019 Stayers’ before a quiet effort at Aintree began the retirement question.
But oh no, the best thing about this story could yet be to come.
Faugheen has taken to fences at the ripe age of 12. Many his age are tucked up in their owners private stables or showjumping to ballads in so-called competition.
But this Machine is three from three over fences and he remains a 4-1 shot for the Marsh Novices’ Chase. Can you imagine?