Trainer Willie Mullins was pleasantly surprised by the brilliance of Faugheen on his return to action at Punchestown on Sunday.
The 2015 Champion Hurdle hero was having his first outing in 665 days when he lined up in the Morgiana Hurdle at the County Kildare track.
He was sent off odds-on favourite to land the Grade 1 contest and did so with the absolute minimum of fuss. Paul Townend sent the nine-year-old off in front and he never looked like being overhauled, eventually coming home with 16 lengths to spare on another former two-mile kingpin in Jezki.
It was a statement of intent from nine-year-old Faugheen and he is now the clear favourite at 13/8 to win a second Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in March.
He’s come out of the race well and his master-trainer admits he wasn’t expecting such a dazzling show on his reappearance.
“It was great to see him back in action. It was a great relief to have him back and a relief to get him on the racetrack. He seems to have come out of the race well, which is very pleasing,” said Mullins.
“Nearly every horse gets an injury of some description, but certainly seeing what he did (at the weekend) probably makes you realise how hard it is to get a horse of that class that can retain that ability after a lengthy time off.
“I think it was above expectations. I was hoping to get him back and run sound and I certainly didn’t expect him to do anything like that.”
Reigning Champion Hurdle hero Buveur D’air is 9/2 to retain his crown in March, with his trainer Nicky Henderson admitting this week he too was impressed by Faugheen’s reappearance.
Meanwhile, Triumph Hurdle winner Defi Du Seuil is 15/2 to graduate to Champion Hurdle glory for Philip Hobbs.
Next up for Faugheen could be a bid to win Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle for the third time in his career, with another festive option open at Leopardstown.
“It was great to have him back for the Morgiana, as that is where you want your top hurdlers to start,” he added.
“There is nothing planned at the moment, but the Christmas Hurdle and the Ryanair Hurdle are two races we are looking at.”
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