The difference colourful American racehorse owner, Rich Ricci, has made to the Willie Mullins yard cannot be underestimated.
His teaming up with the Carlow-based maestro has been a major factor in Mullins developing into the biggest powerhouse in National Hunt racing.
But Ricci’s resolve and enthusiasm for the game hasn’t half been tested over the last few months, as he suffered a series of setbacks.
The first was the worst, the loss of the quite brilliant Vautour last November. Vautour was basically the horse of a lifetime, winning three years in-a-row at the Cheltenham festival.
The hope was that the then seven-year-old would become a live Cheltenham Gold Cup candidate, but he was killed in a freak accident at Mullins’ - breaking a foreleg.
That disaster, at least in racing terms, has been followed by what could be best described as the on-going saga of two more of Ricci’s stars, namely Annie Power and Faugheen.
Annie Power, the best mare since Dawn Run, won last year’s Champion Hurdle, on the back of a less than satisfactory preparation, and followed by scoring by half the track at Aintree in early April. But she hasn’t been seen since and chances are will not appear this campaign.
Faugheen won the Champion Hurdle in 2015 and has only met defeat once in 13 races.
He has, however, been marked absent since landing the Irish Champion Hurdle in January of last year by 15 lengths. He was, of course, a late withdrawal from last Sunday’s renewal of the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.
Reportedly back on track, punters will only believe they are going to see him now when he heads down to the start!
There have been a number of other hiccups of late for Ricci, with his Min having to miss Sunday’s Arkle at Leopardstown with what was, apparently, a minor problem.
Royal Caviar duly did duty for Ricci instead and looked all over a winner when falling at the final fence.
Then there was his promising American Tom, who was long odds-on to take a four-runner novice chase at Naas last month.
He was back-pedalling rapidly, though, when taking a crashing fall at the seventh. American Tom was subsequently found to be coughing and diagnosed with a lung infection.
At Clonmel on Thursday Ricci’s Turcagua made no show when pulled up in the Grade 3 hurdle won by Monalee.
And we wonder what the story is with Limini, one of five winners for Ricci at Cheltenham in March, but yet to be seen this season?
It has obviously been far from smooth sailing, but he still has buckets of ammunition with which to attack, led by Douvan, who is expected to enjoy a lap of honour in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.
Nevertheless, for Ricci to keep going at the ferocious pace he has set for himself, will require deep pockets.
He became a multi-millionaire during his time working for Barclays’ Bank and the Sunday Times Rich List in 2011 estimated his fortune at £54m. Very much associated these days with online bookmakers, BetBright, you would imagine he may have plenty invested in that company.
In an interview with At The Races last weekend an upbeat Ricci remarked: “We will continue trying and buying.’’ And Rich, we will continue watching, with more than a little interest.
HERE we go again - more waffle trotted out by the off-course bookmakers and facilitated by the Racing Post, who really should know better at this stage.
On the lead-in to Cheltenham a year ago, we had to suffer Min-mania, you know punters supposedly in danger of running out of places to hide their dockets on Min for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Min was stuffed on the day and went off a bigger price than he had been weeks before the festival.
On Tuesday, the Post subjected us to Melon-mania, with BoyleSports, Paddy Power and Ladbrokes given the stage to reveal how worried they are about Melon, like Min, trained by Willie Mullins, winning this year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle with Alan Reilly of BoyleSports leading the charge.
This was his best nugget: “It’s not inconceivable he (Melon) could be 2-1, or shorter, on the day.’’
Yesterday Melon ranged between 3-1 and 4-1 favourite across the firms for the Cheltenham contest.
The ex-French horse started off in Ireland last Sunday with a facile ten lengths success in a maiden hurdle.
There is no denying he was impressive, but this was a nothing race. Thirteen went to post and eleven of them may as well have stayed at home for all the chance they had.
That left Melon basically with only Broken Soul to beat. In early October, Broken Soul failed to justify favouritism in a bumper at Tramore, was then second at Fairyhouse, before getting off the mark in what shaped as a modest event at Down Royal at Christmas.
Both the second and third at Down Royal, Oakley Hall and Blairs Cove respectively, have been beaten in the meantime.
You’d imagine the limit of Gordon Elliott’s ambitions this season is to land a maiden hurdle with Broken Soul, while we’re asked to believe there are punters falling over themselves to be with Melon for Cheltenham.
Melon may well be the second coming, time will tell, but the bare evidence thus far is that he has loads to prove.
If he runs again prior to Cheltenham, up in class and bolts in, then that’s an entirely different scenario.
But for those of us who buy the Post literally every day of the week to be asked to swallow this stuff is a bit much.
GORDON Elliott’s Sutton Place has to be a high-class horse in the making.
Lightly-raced and a useful enough sort last season, he made a belated return at Naas a week ago. Sutton Place treated some smart rivals with total contempt, scoring with any amount in hand. He’s clearly had a problem or two along the way, but hopefully can now begin to fulfil his huge potential.
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