It is fair to say that Faugheen has had the most scrutiny of any horse in the lead up to this year’s Cheltenham Festival. The Willie Mullins trained hurdler, once regarded as the best in the business, has had a strange time of it since making his long-awaited return from injury back in November. His comeback race did yield a win, but since then he has pulled up (with no apparent injury) in December’s Ryanair Hurdle and finished second in the Irish Champion Hurdle this month.

It is the latter race that has bookmakers and punters most concerned. The thing is, Faugheen looked back to his old self for large parts of the race, leading well and jumping fluently. However, just when you thought that jockey Paul Townend was ready to pull the trigger with one left to jump, Faugheen seemed to run out of steam. In the end, he was beaten by 2½ lengths by 14/1 shot Supasundae.

Buveur D’Air is odds-on favourite for Champion Hurdle

Surprisingly, the defeat did not impact upon Faugheen’s ante-post Champion Hurdle odds too much. He is still available at around 6/1 with most UK bookmakers, with Betfair stretching it out to 7/1. A couple of hours before Faugheen limped past the post at Leopardstown, the odds-on favourite for the Champion Hurdle, Buveur D’Air, was winning a run of the mill race at Sandown. There were only three horses in the field for that one, which is a pity as it told us little about Buveur D’Air’s chances for a second successive Champion Hurdle victory.

It is difficult to find better odds than 1/2 for Buveur D’Air to win the Champion Hurdle at the moment. Not very attractive for those looking a bit of value from the Festival this year. And, while he has been impressive in remaining unbeaten since the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2016, there is something that seems to be lacking in Buveur D’Air in terms of true greatness. Yes, he could, and should, win the Champion Hurdle this year given present conditions, but would anyone be truly shocked if he came up short? This smells of an upset, so check out the Cheltenham 2018 latest betting odds, tips and offers to get maximum value.

Ruby Walsh should be back in the saddle at Cheltenham 2018

For Faugheen, there are some positives to take before he begins his path to redemption. Despite that defeat, he did look comfortable for the majority of the race. Could another five weeks under the assured hand of Willie Mullins give him the extra couple of percent he needs in the tank to win the Champion Hurdle. Indeed, one other outstanding factor that tends to be overlooked is that Faugheen will likely have Ruby Walsh in the saddle when it comes to Cheltenham. With all due respect to Paul Townend, Walsh is the sort of jockey who can really get the ‘extra-mile’ out of a horse when it matters.

The Cheltenham crowds love a story of redemption, and especially love it when returning heroes strike again. It is safe to say that Faugheen would be a popular winner of the 2018 Champion Hurdle. The bookies are reluctant to rule him out, punters should not either. If those odds remain as generous, it could lead to the biggest cheer of the week.