Facile Vega has generated his share of column inches over the last 12 months and, so far, he hasn't put a foot wrong where it matters – on the racecourse.
As the countdown for the 2023 Cheltenham Festival intensifies, we have taken a look at some of the horses expected to play major roles in the Cotswolds.
Facile Vega is going to be carrying quite the Festival burden, as he's set to be the hot favourite in the curtain-raising Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Can he keep on delivering?
|What||Supreme Novices' Hurdle|
|Where||Cheltenham Festival, Cheltenham Racecourse, Gloucestershire|
|When||1.30, Tuesday 14th March, 2023|
|How to watch||ITV Racing, Racing TV & bet365 Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||Facile Vega 8/11, Marine Nationale 5/1, Impaire Et Passe 10/1, Gaelic Warrior 12/1, Tahmuras 12/1, Rare Edition 12/1, High Definition 20/1|
It's safe to suggest the Facile Vega was bred to succeed. His sire Walk In The Park is synonymous with top jumps performers and he's out of the super-mare Quevega – the record-breaking winner of six successive Cheltenham Festival races from 2009-2014 in the Mares' Hurdle.
With that pedigree, big things were always expected. Adding to the allure, he is owned and bred by the Hammer & Trowel Syndicate – and races in the same iconic red/blue colours carried so successfully by his mother.
Last year, in his first season on the track, he caught the attention with his bumper efforts, including justifying favouritism in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March – so the big-race pressure certainly isn't alien to either him or his connections.
A throwback to December 2021 and, ahead of the busy festive racing programme, one Patrick Mullins was being quizzed on which of the battalion of contenders his father would send out in the days ahead should be looked out for.
The rider, who partners the best of the Closutton bumper squad, had no hesitation in putting forward the name Facile Vega.
His family connections were known but, Mullins informed, his work at home was pleasing everyone and his excitement was noted.
So, on 26th December and day one of the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, Facile Vega started as 10/11fav and won a soft-ground bumper by six-lengths.
Around six weeks later, he really came into the public consciousness with a spine-tingling turn of foot to win his second bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival and a star was born.
Come Cheltenham in March, a deluge of rain almost had the Champion Bumper being called off, but Mullins Jr and Facile Vega glided around Prestbury Park and put away the challenge of the hitherto unbeaten American Mike at their leisure.
A fourth and final win followed at Punchestown and the dye had been cast, Facile Vega was going to be the most eagerly anticipated novice to jump a hurdle this season.
That first opportunity in public came at Fairyhouse in December and Paul Townend coasted around on the 1/9fav for a 14-length win.
The critics immediately cried foul, suggesting they'd been allowed far too easy a time of things up front.
Back at Leopardstown over Christmas, the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle was won, again from the front, though this time with previous hurdles winners Il Etait Temps and Ashroe Diamond beaten.
Facile Vega hasn't put a foot wrong, bar possibly a slight mistake at the last hurdle over Christmas – not that it broke his momentum – and yet there are still plenty of doubters.
With seven wins, it's a race Willie Mullins has bagged more times than anyone else, though he has also seen the likes of Melon and Getabird turned over as hotpots in the Festival opener.
Fellow Irish Grade 1 winner Marine Nationale at 5/1 for Barry Connell, Mullins' own Impaire Et Passe at 10/1 and the Paul Nicholls-trained Tolworth winner Tahmuras at are some of those jostling for a crack at Facile Vega – but the suspicion is it will take quite an effort to prevent him emulating his mother and winning over hurdles at this famous meeting.