Patrick Mullins would love to see Faugheen bring down the house at Leopardstown once again by claiming victory in the Flogas Novice Chase.
It will be five years in March since the Willie Mullins-trained superstar maintained his then unbeaten record with a brilliant display in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
There have been a few bumps in the road since, with Faugheen sidelined for the best part of two years following his scintillating victory in the 2016 Irish Champion Hurdle – and it looked like the end was nigh after he was pulled up with a heart problem at Aintree last spring.
There were a few raised eyebrows when the champion trainer announced his charge would embark on a career over fences this season, but it has proved a masterstroke, with Faugheen following up a successful chasing debut at Punchestown by beating Samcro in a much anticipated clash at Limerick over Christmas.
Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, admits that triumph ranks as one of the highlights of his riding career to date – and while stable jockey Paul Townend takes over in the saddle on Sunday, nobody will be cheering for Faugheen louder than the leading amateur.
“It was magic at Limerick. It was a very special occasion,” said Mullins junior.
“I don’t think we’ve seen him at his best since he came back after 18 months off, even though he has won three Grade Ones, but that performance at Limerick was up there. I suppose his consistency has gone a bit, but that was a huge performance.
“John Codd has been very happy with him since Christmas, so hopefully he can put in a similar sort of performance this weekend.
“It’s a good race. Battleoverdoyen is very good opposition, but Faugheen has put in some very good performances and had some big days in Leopardstown before.
“To me, it would be the biggest result of the weekend were Faugheen to win. Three 12-year-olds have won Grade Ones since 2000 – Monet’s Garden, Florida Pearl and Sizing Europe, so it would be a fair group to be part of.”
Faugheen is opposed by three stable companions in Castlebawn West, Easy Game and Tornado Flyer – while Battleoverdoyen is a major contender for Gordon Elliott.
The latter is three from three over fences, completing his hat-trick in the Grade One Nevills Hotel Novice Chase here last month.
Eddie O’Leary of owners Gigginstown House Stud said: “It’s a fantastic race and we’re taking on ‘The Machine’!
“I hope it’s a very good race and a great spectacle for everyone.
“Hopefully everyone gets a clear round and we’ll see what happens.”
Henry De Bromhead’s pair of Dommage Pour Toi and Myth Buster are the other hopefuls.
With the Gigginstown-owned Abacadabras and Cheveley Park Stud’s Envoi Allen both not declared, Elliott relies on Conflated and Easywork in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle.
Easywork is very much the stable’s main contender following a 22-length victory at Limerick over the festive period.
O’Leary, who confirmed Abacadabras will now head straight to the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, added: “Easywork won well over two and a half miles on very heavy ground in Limerick over Christmas.
“There’s no two-and-a-half-mile race for him this weekend, so we’re running over two miles and we’ll see how we go.
“Hopefully the ground is soft enough for him.”
In the same race, Mullins is represented by Asterion Forlonge, Mt Leinster and Blue Sari – with De Bromhead’s Jason The Militant and John Ryan’s outsider The Little Yank the only other runners.
All eyes will on De Bromhead’s Aspire Tower in the first of four Grade Ones – the Tattersalls Ireland Spring Juvenile Hurdle.
The high-class Flat performer has made a big impression in winning over hurdles at Punchestown and Leopardstown, and will be a short-priced favourite to complete his hat-trick.
De Bromhead said: “If you set off to buy a horse off the Flat to go hurdling, he ticks a lot of boxes.
“He’s taken to hurdling really well. It was only his second run when he won here at Christmas and he hadn’t been to a schooling hurdle or anything, so you’d imagine that he should improve – he should have learnt plenty.
“We’re delighted with what he’s achieved so far and hopefully he can continue the same way.”
Among his nine rivals are Joseph O’Brien’s pair of A Wave Of The Sea and Cerberus, as well as John McConnell’s Never Do Nothing.