Willie Mullins stable star Faugheen has sidelined for the best part of two years after a tantalising round of jumping to win the 2016 Irish Champion Hurdle, but appeared to have lost none of his abilities when routing his rivals on his much anticipated return in the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown last month. 

He was priced up accordingly at 2/11 favourite by most firms to stretch his Grade One tally to nine on the final day of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, but after initially adopting his customary pacesetting role, he weakened to the rear of the five-runner field on the run to the second-last flight and Paul Townend swiftly took him out of the race.

Townend soon dismounted and Faugheen returned to the racecourse stables by horse ambulance, but little over an hour later Mullins was still at a loss to explain what had happened.

He stated: “At the moment Faugheen is sound. He pulled up sound and the vets have passed him fine. He’s not abnormal and not distressed.

“Paul said he just felt very lacklustre over the first few furlongs and he definitely wasn’t himself.

“I’m sure something will arise. He might be incubating a cold or something like that, but at the moment we don’t have any evidence of anything.”

Faugheen jumped the first couple of obstacles in front, but it was evident to see heading out onto the second circuit it perhaps may not be as straightforward as many expected, with his stablemate Cilaos Emery taking over the lead and the writing was soon on the wall for his legion of fans.

“This is obviously a huge setback. I’m not thinking anything at the moment. The important thing is he’s sound to trot up, so it doesn’t look like he’s any leg trouble.”

It has been a turbulent few days for the champion trainer, with Faugheen’s defeat following on from the disappointing displays of Yorkhill and Djakadam and Nichols Canyon’s fatal fall on Thursday.

“A couple of the stars have been beaten, which puts a real bad look on it.

“We’ve had better Christmases, you’d have to say” insisted Mullins