The Tale of Faugheen: Bargain Buy Super-Horse
Buying a horse is obviously a big decision. The process, of course, can be inexpensive or a testament to affluence, but the truth is that there can always be a surprise, regardless of what you pay. For example, The Green Monkey, which at $16,000,000 was the highest priced ever paid for a thoroughbred, never really got his race career going, nor did stud fees in anyway reach expectations.
But, at times, you might get a lot more than you bargained for, as was the case with two Irish brothers who bought a horse for €4,000 (approx. $5,000) in 2008. Ten years later, that horse, Faugheen, is possibly the most famous horse in Irish racing and still going strong at the big UK and Ireland national hunt races.
Mullins knew he had something special
Faugheen changed hands a couple of times and eventually made his way to the stables of Rich and Susannah Ricci. Their best horses are trained by Willie Mullins, arguably the greatest jumps racing trainer of the 21st century. In 2013, as Faugheen made effortlessly won lower grade races in places like Punchestown and Navan, it became clear Mullins had something special on his hands.
The first big test for Faugheen came at the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, where he would take on his first ever Grade 1 contest: the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, which is one of the most important races for novices in British horse racing. Faugheen blew the competition out of the water, landing the win by over 4 lengths in a strong finish.
Faugheen won first 10 races
After that, the goods time rolled in. Faugheen, earning the nickname “The Machine” from adoring Irish punters, racked up win after win, not only going unbeaten but trouncing the opposition in the process. He was a sure thing in every race, a betting lock. In 2015, he returned to Cheltenham to triumph in the Champion Hurdle – his biggest win to date. By that time, they were talking about Faugheen being potentially one of the greatest hurdlers in history.
At the end of 2015, something very strange happened – Faugheen came second in a race. The connections put it down as something of a blip and, indeed, he racked up a couple of wins soon after. But all was not well when he was pulled from the 2016 and 2017 Cheltenham Festivals. Rumours abounded about his injuries. Comebacks were made and fell flat. Faugheen entered the 2018 Champion Hurdle and was soundly beaten. The Machine had broken down. Faugheen was finished.
Faugheen backed to win at Cheltenham next year
Or was he? A month later, rather surprisingly, Faugheen was brought back to contest the Grade 1 Irish Stayers’ Hurdle in Punchestown, run over a longer distance that what Faugheen had been used to in the past. Faugheen won by an astonishing 13 lengths and changed the discourse of the new national hunt season’s horse racing betting. He is now 5/1 favorite with Betway for the 2019 Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, ahead of 7/1 shot Penhill (whom Faugheen beat by 13 lengths in that comeback race). There is even a market of 25/1 for Faugheen to return to the Champion Hurdle next year.
One thing to note about Faugheen is that, when at his best, he has that x-factor quality that delights horse racing fans, like a sixth-sense knowing when to turn it on. To see him accelerating away from the field is something special. It charges the crowds at the races, gives goose bumps to those watching greatness in action. Faugheen’s fans, and there are many, will be hoping that the soon-to-be 11-year-old can dazzle one last time at Cheltenham next year.
In horse racing terms, this is all a fairy tale story, one that could easily have never been. What if the pair of brothers had not started the chain events that led Faugheen to the Ricci family? What if Willie Mullins had never taken the horse under his assured hand? What if Faugheen hadn’t spent his peak years fighting injury? Ireland’s race horse industry is a multi-billion dollar one, creating some of the greatest of all time on the flat and over jumps. But, Irish racing fans also love a story of glory and failure, and subsequent redemption: Faugheen is still telling that story today.