Owner Rich Ricci says his “heart went out to Willie Mullins” when the trainer rang him to tell him three-time Cheltenham Festival winner Vautour had died in freak accident on Sunday.
Paying tribute to the brilliant seven-year-old last night, Ricci thanked all those who have offered their condolences.
“He was a hell of a horse, no doubt about it. It’s very sad,” Ricci said.
“Thank you to everybody who has expressed so many kind words, everybody in racing. Everybody you can think of has been so very kind.”
Vautour had to be put down after breaking a leg when turned out in a field at Mullins’ yard and last night Ricci was struggling to comprehend how the horse had come to grief.
“You sit here and think: God, all those races, the fall at Aintree, all the galloping, all that training and he dies in a field with nothing going on, it’s one of those freak things. We don’t know what happened,” Ricci told At The Races.
“We kept him outside this year because he’s a big, stuffy, gross type of a horse and we took a decision to keep him more outside in the clean air and he’d been thriving. So outside during the day, inside in the evening.
“So they went down to give him his food last night and they found him lying on the ground. We don’t know if he gave it (his leg) a bang, we don’t know what happened but it’s sad.
“My heart really went out to Willie because it’s not an easy phone call to make.
“Willie doesn’t ring me on Sunday unless it’s one of two things — either he’s seen something at Auteuil that he wants me to buy or it’s bad news on a horse.
“I let it ring three times. I just didn’t have the best feeling about it.
“He said: ‘It’s very bad, it’s very straightforward’ and when you have news like that you start to reel a bit and and get your head around it.”
Winner of the 2014 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the 2015 JLT Novices’ Chase and the 2016 Ryanair Chase at the Festival, Ricci pointed to that middle success as a particular highlight.
“Looking back, he was extraordinary (at Cheltenham), he was a sight to see. I’ll never forget that JLT run, it was something to behold.
“Of course we had all those great days, but what is sad for the sport is that I thought we never really got to the bottom of him. He never got to really tap all that potential that he had.
“Ironically, he worked brilliantly on Saturday morning and Willie said it was the first flash of brilliance since that JLT run two years ago.”
While Ricci admitted his sorrow at Vautour’s death, he feels the serious injury suffered by Freddy Tylicki a week ago helps to put matters into perspective.
He added: “I was watching Cork and Naas (on TV) and I looked up to see Robbie McNamara who was so eloquent and articulate in describing what he had been through and the journey Freddy Tylicki faces and I was immediately okay.
“It’s sad to lose a horse but in the context of that and what has happened to other people in our game, it’s okay. It’s not great, it’s sad but in that context, it’s nothing.”
Vautour fell agonisingly short to Cue Card in last year’s King George and Ricci is now pondering his options for this year’s renewal.
Ricci revealed that Douvan may step up in trip for the Kempton showpiece before dropping back to contest Champion Chase at Cheltenham. Ricci added that Vroum Vroum Mag is also “a possibility” for the King George.
Ricci is in the fortunate position of owning the last two Champion Hurdle winners, Faugheen in 2015 and Annie Power this year.
Both head the betting for next March’s renewal but Ricci admits he prefer not to run two of his stars against each other.
“That’s a debate we have to have.
“Where I am today is I say no. I would rather keep them apart and run them in two different races but we’ll have the debate later on.
“It’s hard to say now. We’ve got to get them both there, you never know what kind of form they’re both going to be in.”
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