Having enjoyed so much success as a hurdler in his career, it came as something of a surprise when connections announced that Faugheen would be chasing in 2019/20.
The 12-year-old enjoyed plenty of glory over the smaller obstacles, including two wins at the Cheltenham Festival in 2014 (the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle) and 2015 (the Champion Hurdle).
Injury halted Faugheen’s career to some extent, with 18 months off the track in 2016/17 derailing his progress – a chasing career surely would have beckoned back then but for being sidelined.
A series of nondescript outings last season seemed to signal an end to his career as an elite-level horse, but connections – Faugheen is owned by Rich and Susannah Ricci – made the bold decision to send their star chasing.
So far it has worked like a charm. The 12-year-old has rolled back the years to record back-to-back wins this term, albeit in fairly low-key affairs in Ireland. But victory over Samcro last time out suggests there may be a future – a short one, alas – over the bigger fences.
To that end, his team have decided to enter Faugheen as a chaser at the Cheltenham Festival – albeit with three different declarations at this stage.
He is one of 53 entries into the RSA Chase roughly six weeks shy of the final declaration stage, while the Riccis have also tentatively nominated Faugheen for the Marsh Novices’ Chase – the new name for the JLT Novices’ Chase – and the National Hunt Chase.
It will be Faugheen’s fifth Cheltenham Festival appearance, and this is a track where he has enjoyed plenty of success in the past.
|2014||6||Baring Bingham Novices’ Hurdle||First|
He – and many punters who will no doubt be on board – will be looking to become a rare double-digit winner at the meeting, and an even more incredible one given his late career change.
Old Horse, New Tricks?
It gets harder and harder for older horses with each passing year at the Cheltenham Festival, and it will come as no great surprise to learn that there’s not been a huge amount of ‘elderly’ winners of some of the lower-end chases at the meeting in recent times.
Here’s a historical look at two of Faugheen’s entered races, and the most common ages of the eventual winner:
|National Hunt Chase||1||7||27||21||7||5||4|
As you can see, the RSA Chase is a veritable young man’s (or woman’s) game, with around 90% of all winners aged in the six-to-eight category.
To find the rarest of anomalies you have to head back to 1946, when Birthlaw delivered the unlikeliest of triumphs as an eleven-year-old.
The National Hunt Chase does have a slightly older profile as far as winners are concerned, and clearly there are chances for Faugheen here based on the historical data.
The Marsh Novices’ Chase is another ‘breeding ground’ type of race where younger horses have prevailed – indeed, all nine winners have been aged six or seven.
But Faugheen heads to Prestbury Park with a rather different profile to most young chasers: he has been there, seen it and got the Cheltenham Festival wins to prove it. His form in the coming weeks will make for very interesting viewing indeed.