Who said the Machine was broken? Johnny Ward reports on the joy of watching a former champion recover his brilliance.Sealed with a kiss: Ricci celebrates with Faugheen
By Johnny Ward at Punchestown
There's a lot to be said for an exclamation mark.
It is, Wikipedia informs us, "a punctuation mark usually used after an interjection or exclamation to indicate strong feelings or high volume (shouting), or show emphasis, and often marks the end of a sentence".
You rarely expect them on official Twitter accounts of respected, leading media operators. Then who expected what we saw in the feature at Punchestown this evening? Racing UK’s Twitter account was at it:
Faugheen!!!!— Racing UK (@Racing_UK) April 26, 2018
The Machine is Back!
Ditto The Racing Post:
Faugheen wins the Champion Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown!— Racing Post (@RacingPost) April 26, 2018
And ditto many others.
There is a part of the human make-up, especially as we get older, that will ever will small victories in the battle with the ruthless ageing process.
When a horse like Faugheen – who looked so unbeatable at his best – suffers three defeats on the bounce, it can be hard to observe a sorry decline.
Ruby Walsh, speaking earlier in the day, was not so sure. It was he who advised that the ten-year-old be stepped up to three miles after he was outpaced in the Champion Hurdle. Ditch the cheepieces, he added. The rest of us thought Faugheen would never win again. Walsh probably felt the same a few days ago, according to Willie Mullins.Faugheen puts in a fluent leap on his way to a runaway success (Racingfotos)
"He worked the other morning and this was going to be a last-chance saloon. Ruby was with me on the gallops and we looked at each other and said, 'that's him gone'." Having put my largest bet of the week on Penhill, I watched the three-mile feature unfold with mixed emotions.
But you have to look beyond the day-to-day pursuit of a winner and appreciate that moments like this are a rare thing.
What we had here was nearly twice as much Faugheen time as we usually have, his first step up to three miles since he was a novice a thing of beauty from gate to wire.
As he passed the stands, perhaps taken aback by the crowd roaring even though there was a circuit to go, David Mullins assessed things. "I couldn't believe how far in front I was," he said. "The second time I passed it I was even further in front."
This race was visually like a beginners' chase – triers up the front please – and, while Faugheen was gifted a pretty soft lead, he was simply going a pace that was just too much for his rivals.
Penhill was the only one who gave a semblance of an indication that he might cause the machine a problem.
"I thought at one stage Penhill would do it," Mullins Sr admitted. It was a fleeting notion.The Machine in full working order for Mullins (Racingfotos)
It was all too much for Rich Ricci. Teary eyed, the owner conceded his frustration with how Mullins campaigns his horses, while accepting it was part of the package when you sign up for the greatest.
"You couldn't make it up and I didn't watch most of it but I was listening,” he said.
"The ball hasn't bounced our way all season and to get something like this with such a great horse is unbelievable.
"We'll see how things are over the summer and take it from there but it's great to have him back.
"Willie is magic and has had winners all week but I feel bad for Gordon (Elliott). He doesn't deserve to lose. He's a good man and he's handled it with such aplomb all season.
"But Willie is brilliant. It drives me crazy when we are behind and the horses aren't out until January and that it all comes down to Punchestown but it's the way he does things and he's just magic and it works for him and it works for us."
As I returned to the press room, eventually getting through the throng that wanted to see Faugheen, Mullins' ace procurer of fine specimens, Harold Kirk, stopped me, imparted three words – "he's a genius" – and walked on.
How his horses hold their form is quite something and Footpad's rout in the novice chase about an hour later was not entirely dissimilar. He probably had little to beat but this lad is a dude and everything comes so easy to him.
Footpad is perhaps the outstanding novice chaser of his time.
Incredibly, there is talk of novice chasing for Faugheen, who had been on the verge of retirement a few hours earlier.
"He'd be a right novice chaser but we'll see what Rich wants to do with him. Three-mile hurdling is very hard on a horse," Mullins said of Faugheen.
He's only ten, after all.
After Footpad's win, Mullins was on 12 winners for the week - all for different owners and with eight different riders being part of the party.
But there's only one Faugheen.