Rich Ricci admits Monday’s revelation that Faugheen and Min will miss the Cheltenham Festival represents a “galling” double setback.
The colourful owner has had a trying season.
In November, three-time festival winner Vautour was killed in a freak accident while last month saw Annie Power, last year’s Cheltenham Champion Hurdle winner, ruled out of this year’s festival.
Ricci had hoped Faugheen would return from a lengthy lay-off for the Irish Champion Hurdle but he missed that engagement and on Monday he was ruled out of Cheltenham.
Stable-mate Min missed an intended outing in the Irish Arkle last month and will also be an absentee in the Cotswolds next month.
“In any normal year, to lose either Faugheen or Min from your Cheltenham team would be hard to take,” Ricci said. “But to lose both — and on the back of what has been an attritional few weeks — was particularly galling,”
Faugheen and Min should be fit to run again before the season ends but the outlook for Annie Power is less positive.
Writing in his RTÉ blog, Ricci added: “Right now we’ve got to figure out what to do with the rest of the season and the only one we have on the team with a poor prognosis in terms of the rest of the campaign is Annie Power.
“Both Faugheen and Min should be able to compete later in the spring so, when you look at the bright side, yesterday’s bolt from the blue is just really bad news in a Cheltenham Festival context, no worse than that.
“In Faugheen’s case, given the race we wanted him to line up for at Cheltenham would have been so competitive, you would really want to be getting stuck into him in training now, and that isn’t possible. Likewise with Min. It just goes to show with racehorses, so wonderful and so fragile, anything can happen.”
Ricci revealed that he has told trainer Willie Mullins that he had a sense that Faugheen was destined not to make to Cheltenham.
He said: “It’s funny, before I spoke to Willie yesterday and got the bad news, I had been earlier saying to him that I had the feeling we would go through all this emotion of getting Faugheen ready in time for Cheltenham in a right hurry, and then find out the day before the Champion Hurdle that he wouldn’t make it! It all happened a bit sooner than I feared.”
Given his run of bad luck, it’s no surprise Ricci sounded a note of caution about Douvan’s prospects in the Champion Chase.
“Douvan will hopefully lead the team and obviously goes there with a big shout,” Ricci said. “But there are no shoo-ins at Cheltenham and even though we don’t know yet who will take him on, I think for a number of reasons he will face the biggest test of his career there.
“It’s the instinct of many that his least impressive performances have been at Cheltenham. That might sound harsh given how impressive he was in the Supreme Novices’ and the Arkle, but he has set the bar pretty high with everything he has done.
“I don’t know if those arguments are right and whether the track or the likely good ground take a percentage from him, but either way you couldn’t be anything but incredibly excited about him lining up next month.”
Meanwhile, Ruby Walsh appears to have played down the prospect of Yorkhill reverting to hurdles.
Last year’s Neptune winner is two from two over fences this season, but with Mullins now lacking an obvious contender for the Champion Hurdle, some have suggested Yorkhill could follow Buveur D’Air in returning to the smaller obstacles.
Walsh, speaking on Racing UK, appeared to think such a notion was unlikely — despite confirming he had not discussed the matter with Mullins.
Asked if Yorkhill could be a Champion Hurdle contender, Walsh said: “Maybe he would, I haven’t discussed it with Willie so I don’t know.
“We made a decision earlier in the season to go chasing with him and I’d imagine that’s what we will do.
“He’s not entered in the Champion Hurdle so he would have to be supplemented, and I’d imagine to do that you’d have to be very, very, very, very happy with him.
“We did it last year with with Annie Power, she was bombing and we thought it was the right thing to do. To do it with Yorkhill, you’d have to be convinced it was the right thing to do.
“Of course, Willie said a few weeks back he hadn’t ruled out the idea of going hurdling, maybe next year or whatever, so I honestly don’t know.”
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