Things We Learned » Fair Faugheen

Fair Faugheen

Faugheen’s form just gets stronger and stronger as time goes by. Even when he stands in his box, his form gets stronger.

The latest Faugheen fillip came when Josses Hill ran such a mighty race to finish second, just a half a length behind his stable companion Royal Boy, in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Kempton last Saturday, the pair of them clear of their rivals. Josses Hill is the horse who finished second to Willie Mullins’ horse in his bumper at Punchestown last May when trained by Andy Oliver, 22 lengths behind the winner. He is an exciting prospect now for Nicky Henderson.

That bumper is working out well. As well as Josses Hill, third-placed Stonebrook, trained then by David Kiely, has run in two bumpers since for Donald McCain, and has won both, while fifth-placed Rock The World has finished second to three good rivals in his three hurdle races since.

Faugheen has now won all five races that he has contested, a point-to-point, a bumper, a maiden hurdle, a novice hurdle and a Grade 3 hurdle. He has beaten 51 rivals and he has won his five races by an aggregate of over 45 lengths. The comments for each of his five wins were, respectively, easily, impressive, not extended, easily and easily. He has won on good ground, yielding ground, good to yielding ground and heavy ground, and he has won over two miles, two and a half miles, two and three-quarter miles and three miles.

He could be an Albert Bartlett horse in March, but then again, he could be a Neptune Hurdle horse, and there is no telling what he could be after March and beyond.

Knight watch

Sometimes it pays to watch Division 2 of a two-mile-three-furlong novices’ hurdle at Exeter on a normal Tuesday afternoon, sometimes you can pick up on something that would usually pass you by, and Knight Of Noir could be one of those things.

David Pipe’s horse sat out the back in the early stages of the race under AP McCoy as the three market leaders, Cool George, Prideofthecastle and Sky Watch, disputed the early running. He made nice progress through his field, joined in with the leading group at the second last flight, and moved into second place on the run to the last. At that point, it looked as though Cool George had set up a race-winning advantage under a well-executed ride from James Best, but Knight Of Noir bridged the gap to the leader remarkably quickly after the final flight, and moved on to win surprisingly readily under just a hands-and-heels ride from the champ.

There was lots to like about this performance from the son of Winged Love. Firstly, they did not go a frenetic gallop that would have set it up for a closer. They just went a nice even pace, and the fact that the three early leaders finished second, third and fourth, with the front four clear, tells you that (for all that they were the three market leaders) the race was probably run to suit prominent racers more than the hold-up horses.

Secondly, runner-up Cool George was well-backed, had the race run to suit, and did everything right. When he moved on at the second last flight, he traded at 1.25 in-running, and he wasn’t stopping. He was pulling clear of the third horse on the run-in as much as the winner was pulling away from him.

It was interesting that Tom Scudamore had chosen to ride the other David Pipe horse in the race, Prideofthecastle, who was sent off the 3/1 joint second favourite, while Knight Of Noir was easy enough to back, going off as the 7/1 fourth favourite. He obviously surprised connections and most punters at least a little.

This was just Knight Of Noir’s third race under Rules (he won his point-to-point at Larkhill) and just his second race over hurdles. He had suffered a crashing fall on his previous run at Wincanton in November, a fall from which, his trainer said afterwards, it had taken him a while to recover. This run should have done his confidence no end of good, and he can progress again now. It is perhaps significant that his jumping in the early stages of the race was sketchy enough, but it warmed up as he grew into the race under a confidence-engendering ride.

There are apparently no major plans for him, but he will be of interest wherever he runs next.

Last back

It was great to see Last Instalment returned to the racecourse, and finishing a close-up third behind Texas Jack and Baily Green in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles on Thursday.

There was a lot of encouragement to be gleaned from this performance. His jumping was really good for a horse who had been so short of recent match practice, and he travelled well to the second last fence over a distance that should have been shorter than ideal, before lack of peak fitness seemed to tell. Even so, he did really well to finish as close as he did to two talented rivals who were probably competing over their optimum trip, with the front three clear.

Remarkably, this was the first time that the Philip Fenton-trained horse had been beaten over fences. In his novice year, he won his beginners’ chase at Galway in October before going on to land the Florida Pearl Chase, the Fort Leney Chase and the PJ Moriarty Chase, a Grade 2 and two Grade 1s. He was one of the big Irish hopes for the 2012 Cheltenham Festival before his injury got in the way.

Oftentimes they don’t come back from tendon injuries, but you could not have been more encouraged by Thursday’s performance, and his trainer reported him well yesterday morning and on track for the Hennessy next month. He will have to step forward again there if he is to mark himself down as a live Cheltenham Gold Cup candidate, but that is more than possible.

With The Tullow Tank going from strength to strength, and Dunguib set to run in the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas this afternoon, it’s all happening for Philip Fenton again.

Power pointer

Interesting stat about Thursday’s Goffs Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park. Three of the last seven winners of the race had run in the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, but none of the three had completed in the Paddy Power. Two of them, Preists Leap and Homer Wells, had fallen, while the other, On His Own, had been brought down.

That stat points to Hunting Party, who fell at the first fence in the Paddy Power, and Rich Revival, who was pulled up in the Leoparstown race on his seasonal debut. There is a case of sorts to be made for both, so don’t be surprised if – spurious stat notwithstanding – either or both of them out-perform current odds of 20/1.

Ground concerns

Tread warily when you are assessing going preferences from Warwick on Saturday. The official ground description was heavy, soft in places, but the times on the day suggest that it was probably more like good to soft on the chase track, and no worse than soft on the hurdles track. Interesting that they changed the ground on the chase track to soft after the fourth race.

So the three chase winners, Corrin Wood, Dare Me and Shotgun Paddy, probably put up the best performances of their respective careers to date on good to soft ground, not the heavy ground (soft for Shotgun Paddy) that has been recorded in the form book.

© The Irish Field, 18th January 2014