Faugheen will try to repair his reputation in the williamhill.com Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing Day.
The reigning champion hurdler has questions to answer after surrendering his unbeaten record to stablemate Nichols Canyon on his reappearance in the Morgiana Hurdle, despite having soundly beaten his fellow Willie Mullins inmate in a gallop the week before.
While Faugheen is long odds-on to repeat his win of 12 months ago, he will have to bounce back from that unexpected defeat.
“Faugheen is good. Whether he did too much in his gallop beforehand or the tactics were wrong I’m not sure,” said Mullins. “I don’t think Ruby [Walsh] was worried about Nichols Canyon after the bit of work so maybe it was the tactics, but it was pointless the two of them having a fight for the lead.
“On the day Ruby was happy to take a lead, but we probably didn’t realise how good the other fellow could be. We never dreamt he’d be flat, maybe he was. I wasn’t concerned that he hung, to me that’s what a tired horse did. As I said on the day, he had a sore mouth and that wasn’t why he hung.
“He had a bit of a mouth problem [after the Morgiana], but I wouldn’t worry about that.
“It will be interesting to see on his next couple of runs whether the form works out or not. Nichols Canyon could be improving. I’m hoping we’ll see the best of him at Kempton. He came out of Punchestown very well. He likes Kempton and I’m hoping he’s back to himself. He should be.”
Walsh told Racing UK: “I maybe didn’t show Nichols Canyon enough respect, maybe I went on homework but that can fool you.
“When you get beat you always look for a reason, but who knows, by the end of Christmas Nichols Canyon may have won at Leopardstown and the form will look rock solid.
“If I have to make the running I will, all I want is a good, honest gallop. I rode him last week and he seems in really good form. Fingers crossed he’ll run his race.”
The New One was narrowly beaten in this race two years ago by My Tent Or Yours but will be without regular partner Sam Twiston-Davies. Despite the horse being trained by his father, Nigel, the jockey rides Old Guard for his boss, Paul Nicholls.
“It was an impossible situation for Sam, really,” said Twiston-Davies, who has booked Noel Fehily. “He’s not going there at 100 per cent as we’ve had a little hold up, but he is ready for a run.
“There are so few options for these good hurdlers, once we’d missed Cheltenham [International Hurdle] we had to come here. He’s been an incredible horse for us. He’s only lost six out of 21 and three of those have been at the Festival and one other in this race. He’s won over £600,000 and has done us proud, what more can you say?”
Old Guard has been a revelation this season, winning the Greatwood and the International and while it was not the original plan to run in this, Nicholls feels he is so well he has nothing to lose.
“He was so fresh after his run at Cheltenham and he came out of it so well,” Nicholls said.
“Sam [Twiston-Davies] schooled him on Tuesday and he was so fresh.”
Nicky Henderson runs both Hargam, who was beaten by Old Guard last time out, and Sign Of A Victory, who won a Flat race on the all-weather when he was last seen.
“He’s fit and well after his run at Wolverhampton and that was just for something to do, really,” said owner Matt Morgan. “We thought we’d run him rather than him standing in his box and if we have any designs of going for anything decent on the Flat, he needed a mark. The second came out and won, he’s got a mark now and Jamie Spencer jumped off and said he felt like a Northumberland Plate/Ebor type, but that he had enough boot to win over ten furlongs.”