Irish preview: Faugheen a fascinating runner on red-hot card

Faugheen wins at Cheltenham
Faugheen is one of the star attractions at Punchestown on Saturday

Timeform take you through the best of the action at Punchestown on Saturday...

"...the rest of the day’s action will likely pale into insignificance should one of Ireland’s most popular racehorses thrill the crowds once more..."

Timeform on Faugheen

An impressive winner of the Morgiana Hurdle in 2017, it's fair to say that it's been far from plain sailing for Faugheen in the intervening period - he has won only one of his eight subsequent starts and was last seen being pulled up at Aintree in April, when reported to have been suffering from a fibrillating heart.

For many people that looked likely to spell the end of Faugheen's glorious racing career, which also includes a memorable win in the 2015 Champion Hurdle, but instead he takes on a new challenge on Saturday's Morgiana card at Punchestown, making his chasing debut at the age of 11.

A winning pointer before embarking on a career under Rules, the idea behind sending Faugheen over fences is that he is likely to find easier opportunities at this stage of his career in novice chases, rather than continuing to take on the very best in conditions hurdles. That thought process could well bear fruit in Saturday's beginners' chase (12:50), with his best recent effort over hurdles (when third behind Paisley Park in the Stayers' Hurdle at Cheltenham in March) still comparing favourably to anything his 16 rivals achieved in that sphere.

Faugheen's task is unlikely to prove as simple as the bare figures suggest, though, especially as he will be conceding chasing experience to many of his opponents at the weekend, the pick of which looks to be Gordon Elliott's Flawless Escape, who was in the process of showing useful form when falling at the last in a maiden won by Champagne Classic at Fairyhouse last time.

One thing is for certain and that is that Faugheen won't lack of support; the rest of the day's action will likely pale into insignificance should one of Ireland's most popular racehorses thrill the crowds once more.

Those who haven't already retreated to the bars can look forward to an intriguing renewal of the Morgiana Hurdle (14:00), and it is that man Willie Mullins who appears to hold all the aces once again as he attempts to win the race for the ninth year in succession, with last season's Supreme winner Klassical Dream leading a three-pronged attack from Closutton.

Klassical Dream is unbeaten in four starts since joining Mullins and confirmed himself as the pick of last season's novice hurdlers with a performance every bit as dominant as at Cheltenham when winning the Champion Novice Hurdle here on his final outing, just kept up to his work to beat Felix Desjy by five and a half lengths.

The manner of both those wins suggested that he has all the necessary tools to be a big player in open Grade 1 company this season and his scope for further improvement identifies him as very much the up-and-coming force in this division.

The chief danger to Klassical Dream on Timeform ratings is stablemate Sharjah, who made the breakthrough at the top level in this race 12 months ago, quickening clear in the straight to win by seven and a half lengths. He backed that up with a second Grade 1 success in the Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown and didn't get the chance to show what he can do in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, making it no further than the third flight (brought down by the fall of Buveur d'Air).

Clearly, the six-year-old lacks the unexposed profile of the favourite, but he is a very smart performer in his own right and is unlikely to give up his crown without a fight. It's also worth pointing out that Mullins has previous when it comes to winning this race with his so-called second string; Sharjah himself was upsetting the odds last year when beating 5/2-on favourite Faugheen, who had suffered an even more surprising defeat when beaten by Nichols Canyon at odds of 6/1-on in 2015.

Another potential spoiler from the Mullins yard comes in the shape of Saldier. This lightly-raced sort was a smart juvenile hurdler in 2017/18, with his wins including the AES Champion Four Year Old Hurdle at this venue, and he was unlucky not to win when last seen in the Fishery Lane Hurdle at Naas 12 months ago, seemingly going best when falling at the last.

The broken nose he suffered in that fall ruled him out for the rest of the season, but the form could hardly have worked out better in his absence, with the eventual winner of that Naas heat, Espoir d'Allen, going unbeaten in three subsequent starts, including a 15-length win in the Champion Hurdle. It would be dangerous to take too literal a view of that form line, but Saldier remains relatively unexposed and is a fascinating contender in this division for the months ahead.

The field is completed by Petit Mouchoir and Yaha Fizz. The latter is out of his depth in this company on all known form, and, while the same cannot be said of Petit Mouchoir, recent evidence would suggest that he is no longer the force of old. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Petit Mouchoir produced high-class efforts to win the Ryanair Hurdle and Irish Champion Hurdle in 2016/17.

Elsewhere on the card, a field of seven has been assembled for the Craddockstown Novices' Chase (13:25) , a race that has been won by the likes of Moscow Flyer (2001), Sizing Europe (2009) and Sizing John (2015) since the turn of the century.

The last-named pair were both trained by Henry de Bromhead, who is double-handed in this year's renewal courtesy of Moon Over Germany and Notebook. The former sets the standard on the form of his handicap win at Aintree in April, but preference is for his stablemate, who created an excellent impression when making a successful chase debut over C&D last month.

The runner-up Eclair de Beaufeau - who reopposes here - gave the form a boost when winning his next start at Wexford, pulling clear late on to land the odds by 19 lengths. Gordon Elliott's charge showed improved form that day and will be a big threat here, but Notebook remains open to more improvement in his own right and looks a good bet to uphold the placings in what is likely to prove an informative heat.

Finally, the maiden hurdle (14:35) that follows the Morgiana is also well worth sticking around for, with Mullins set to unleash the exciting Blue Sari. The four-year-old progressed to a smart level in only two bumper starts, notably pushing Envoi Allen all way at Cheltenham, and it will be disappointing if he isn't competing for top honours in this division come the end of the season.

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