Ricci hails ‘magic’ Mullins as duo preserve Irish pride

Another day like that and the people behind this Prestbury Cup lark will be left with a considerable amount of Cotswold mud on their faces.

Fitting really given the shiny new trophy brought into commission this year to make official the long-standing and friendly rivalry between those horses trained in Britain and Ireland has had a piece of the famous racecourse turf encased within it.

Last year was to blame, of course.

Just 23 years after the ‘raiders’ returned westwards across the Irish Sea with ne’er a winner to be had, they were rubbing their eyes and stuffing their wallets as 14 of their entrants romped home to outgun the hosts for the first time in history.

A repeat has already been nobbled after day two which began and ended well enough with Faugheen claiming the opening Neptune Novices Hurdle and Silver Concorde taking the closing Champion Bumper but little had been offered for succour in between.

With the Festival at the halfway mark, the Irish victories number ‘just’ five and, let’s face it, were it not for the Willie Mullins stable the very idea of a Prestbury Cup would be laughable rather than merely risible.

Mr Mullins has spoiled us.

In a week when Brian O’Driscoll will make his final appearance in green, it seems somehow appropriate to stop for a moment and digest just how special the Mullins dynasty actually is.

“He’s magic. He’s brilliant,” said Rich Ricci, Faugheen’s multi-millionaire owner. “He’s got a great eye for a horse. He is patient. That’s underrated as a virtue. A very patient man. Sometimes, to my frustration and others, but he seems to know what each horse needs.”

Ricci has been purchasing horses for Mullins to train since 2005 with a stable that began with Scotsirish and the normally reclusive American was more than willing to open up when it came to discussing a man he describes as a friend.

At one point the former Barclays Bank bigwig was asked jokingly if a man he described as “meticulous” would have it in him to turn his attention to the banking world in which himself had amassed such a fortune.

“Willie could do lots of things. I asked him one time what he would do if he couldn’t be a trainer and he said he would be an architect so he’s got the brains to do lots of things.”

Without Mullins, the idea of a Prestbury Cup would have never been entertained. The same could almost be said for Ricci who is providing the trainer with a considerable amount of weaponry as the years go by.

Mickael D’Haguenet in the Neptune and Champagne Fever in the Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle had both provided success for the trainer/owner tandem before this week and now Vautour and Faugheen have added to the list.

“They are both unbelievable,” said Ricci who was decked out in his now trademark bespoke tweed, trilby and dark glasses. “It’s so hard to have winners here so to get them is just magic.”

Ricci’s origins are famously hazy. A short biography of him doing the rounds yesterday could say only that, yes, he is American and that he gained a bachelors degree in finance from Creighton University in Nebraska.

Based in the UK since the mid-90s, his name and collection of £18m in a sales share propelled him to the headlines two years ago but he doused suggestions that his success on the ‘track’ has added to his fortune.

“No. You are in it for the love of the game. They are expensive and very fragile things. They are very costly to mind but they need to be minded. If you are in this game you just have to understand that is the cost of what happens.

“So, no, it is not a game to be an investor in.”

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