How Lady Luck put O’Connells on road to Arkle glory

Un De Sceaux

Rich Ricci was no stranger to the winner’s podium in Cheltenham before Douvan and Faugheen earned him two returns to the most sought-after patch of real estate in Prestbury Park yesterday afternoon. 

Which isn’t to say that he has become accustomed to getting there.

Ricci has earned millions in his time in high finance, and he owns dozens of horses, but the nattily-attired American continues to suffer through the few minutes it takes for his prized equine talent to do the business.

“I don’t watch it,” he said after Douvan claimed the Festival-opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

“I never do. I always have my back turned to the races. It’s a quirky thing I do. I’m too nervous to watch.

“I stand next to my friend Joe and he tells me how it’s going.”

Twenty-five people flew from Cork Airport to the UK yesterday.

Most, if not all, sported a scarf bearing the blue and orange colours of Un De Sceaux who was, like Douvan, piloted by Ruby Walsh and trained by Willie Mullins and started favourite to claim the Arkle Challenge Trophy.

Few, if any, of those could take their eyes off their big moment.

Hands were raised long before the seven-year old breasted the line, heels were rocked on and faces rubbed with sweaty palms even though their hope led from the off.

Confirmation of the victory was greeted with laughter, disbelief and no few tears.

Owned by Eddie O’Connell from Glanmire, who was back home with his wife, it fell to their son Colm to put into context what a victory in a race of this magnitude and in a Festival of this scope meant to a family that owns just two horses compared to Ricci’s dozens.

“It’s incredible,” he said. “Incredible. It’s what makes the dream come alive.”

Colm O’Connell must have been collared for half-a-dozen different impromptu media interviews with a five-minute window and on each occasion he made sure to mention his parents.

“I was jumping every fence with him,” he said of their winner. They all were.

Eddie O’Connell has bought a horse at maybe a rate of one per year in the two decades or so since he first start dabbling in this game and the brief for Mullins when asked to purchase Un De Sceaux was to find him one that could just get him a run here in March.

Any run.

Colm O’Connell had watched YouTube footage of Anaglogs Daughter and Tommy Carberry winning the Arkle back in 1980, as well as Ruby Walsh and Azertyuiop whose partnership claimed the race honours for Paul Nicholls a dozen years ago.

He didn’t dare think his family could ever emulate either.

“Something special, isn’t it? He was tanking all the way around and I thought when he was late challenged there, I knew he would find it.

“He found it in France when Gemix came late and I knew he would find it again.”

In truth, it was far more straightforward than a first winner should be.

Walsh pushed to the front from the off, jumping slickly and cruising at a speed that oozed confidence and never more so than when God’s Own and Vibrato Valtat staked a claim coming around the final turn.

The response came in the form of after-burners, a pitch perfect jump at the last seeing off God’s Own and Barry Geraghty to run out a six-length winner.

It was only in the aftermath when it emerged that the whole confluence of events had emerged by chance.

“It was kind of a funny one, really,” said Colm O’Connell of the day Un De Sceaux was bought. “There was four horses that failed the vet and this one was the fifth. He was the last of the stock, but he paid off.”

And some.

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