Following a hugely successful run of results for their string of horses throughout the month of December, our Chairman Rich Ricci took some time out of his schedule to reflect on those performances, and others, as well as look forward to the next few weeks of racing.
“Our season really ramped up a gear on John Durkan day when we had an across the card four – timer and I think from then to New Year’s Day we had 17 of our 22 runners win; a very fortunate run of form. I guess the highlights were obviously the Grade 1 winners but it was great to see so many horses we have been patient with come out and win their maidens and beginners races.”
Bapaume got the Ricci’s Christmas period off to a flyer with a gutsy display in the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown on the 26th.
“We were delighted with him at Fairyhouse first time up and hoped he would come forward from that day, which he appeared to do. I thought Ruby was sharp to get the run up the rail swinging for home but it was also pleasing that the horse had enough boot to take the gap. Whether he will be up to winning a Triumph I don’t know, JP has a very strong hand and Defi du Seuil looks a proper animal on his 4 runs to date, not to mention Charli Parcs with Nicky Henderson as well as Joseph O’ Brien’s battalion of juveniles. Willie also has Meri Devie who looked really classy at Leopardstown so it looks like being a really deep and competitive Triumph Hurdle.”
On the same day, Min put in a spectacular performance in the G1 Racing Post Novice Chase.
“He was electric and I have rarely seen Ruby so animated on the run in. While we were beaten in the Supreme last year I think he had to race and battle for arguably his first time, and as we know suffered a season ending injury mid race. He has demonstrated a tractability and intelligence over fences that I don’t think we saw last season and has really grown up. Touch wood, he will probably go to Leopardstown again for the Frank Ward Arkle before Cheltenham and another battle with Altior who looks exceptional and is a deceptively big horse who really fills the eye – it’s easy to see why they went chasing with him. We have a bit to find with him but they both look better chasers than hurdlers and we are looking forward to taking him on again.”
Douvan entered the fray on the 27th just 16 days after his seasonal reappearance at Cork in the Hilly Way chase and he continued his rise to stardom with a facile success in the Grade 1 feature.
“We are very lucky and privileged to own him and I think all of us associated with him are a little in awe of him. I know there is a lot of noise out there that we should have gone to the King George and that we are not challenging him enough, but he has just turned 7 and we want to preserve him for as long as possible. There are not a huge amount of options for him between now and Cheltenham but the Tied Cottage at Punchestown is a possibility. Hopefully we can get him to March in one piece, we know as well as anyone how difficult that is, and we will figure the rest out from there.”
The ever loveable Vroum Vroum Mag made it four Grade 1’s for the month of December on the 28th, this time over 3 miles.
“Joe Chambers and I were leaning towards Kempton but Willie was adamant she stayed 3 miles and he was proven right, again! As Patrick says, he has an annoying habit of being so! We don’t want her to be super sub all the time, and I think had we had a clear run with Faugheen and Annie this season she would have been over fences, but we are where we are and are very lucky to be in a position that she can adapt. Having watched it back I think she was idling. She has such acceleration but then seems to pull herself up in front before going on again when needed. It was great also for the Act D Wagg syndicate with Clondaw Warrior. What a last 2yrs that horse has given them, and it will be interesting to see if they go to Dubai or Cheltenham next!”
Speaking of mares, Let’s Dance took the Grade 3 mares hurdle on the closing day of the Leopardstown festival to make it 3/3 this season. She campaigned with distinction at the highest level as a juvenile last season without ever hitting the target and that experience has been put to good use.
“She was brilliant and maintained a relentless gallop throughout. Joe was saying all last season that we won’t see the best of her until she steps up in trip and that appears to be the case. She could go further in trip and I imagine will have a plethora of entries at Cheltenham. Were she to stick to her own sex, it wouldn’t bother me if she went in open company as opposed to the novice race given the difference in race distances. She has a beautiful pedigree.”
One horse who didn’t visit the winners’ enclosure was Djakadam, finishing 3rd having been sent off favourite for the Lexus Chase.
“It was an odd result in my mind as I couldn’t see how over the longer trip Outlander would reverse the Durkan form with us. Maybe we could have made more use of him, I don’t know, but travelling over to Leopardstown he was the one horse I said to myself if he is beaten I wouldn’t be too despondent. Given he started his season in the John Durkan, where he ran after that was always going to be a conundrum. We didn’t particularly want to go back to Cheltenham before the Gold Cup, the Irish Gold Cup is perhaps a little close to March for Djak, while the Lexus was pretty close to his first run. So it was the lesser of three evils I guess and I would have no issue if Willie wants to go straight to the Festival with him.”
With eyes on the Gold Cup, like many spectators Ricci was deeply impressed by Thistelcrack’s victory in the King George.
“I know you can’t be afraid of one horse but he looks exceptional. People say Cue Card didn’t run his race but maybe he just couldn’t go with Thistlecrack? There aren’t many horses that can gallop and jump at that speed over extended trips and watching him probably makes the loss of Vautour more acute in my mind, as I would love to have seen them go at it at Cheltenham.”
Away from the Graded action it was how those who are at the early stages of their careers performed that will have given connections further Christmas cheer.
“Bravissimo was very good in winning his maiden hurdle at Limerick. Paul was happy with him and the way he travelled would give you hope that he could come back in trip also. As with a lot of maiden hurdle winners where they go next is not straight forward given how the programme book in Ireland is for the first 3 months of the year, but we will look to step him up in grade. Some Neck finally got his head in front. Patrick was clearly keen to win a race on him as he went to Limerick before coming back to Leopardstown for the bumper later that day!! He appreciated the step up in trip and while he was novicey I think he can now progress. Montalbano was very good. He is very odd in that given his breeding he probably should be retiring to stud at the age of 5 rather than going hurdling! Given his pedigree it was interesting to see him start off over 2m 4f but the further he went the better he looked.”
Pylonthepressure redeemed himself with a very polished display at Limerick, jumping very well to land the spoils.
“He bumped into Tombstone and Our Duke in his maiden hurdles last season and that form doesn’t look too bad now. He should make up into a nice novice chaser next year”.
As for the novice chasers there were two victories in that sphere that tickled Ricci.
“I thought Childrens List jumped and galloped and appreciated the 3 miles at Punchestown, we will tip away with him and I think he will improve for better ground also.”
However it was a low key mares beginners chase on December 29th that caught the imagination of a lot of racing fans, and the performance of Benie des Dieux in particular.
“She had springs! It took us a while to buy her, Willie was very keen on her, and we hoped and suspected she was decent; but I didn’t think she would produce a display like that on debut for us. Paul was delighted, it looked thrilling, and while there may not have been much depth to the race I think she could be well above average.”
Of those that didn’t reach the frame “Arbre de Vie should come on a lot for his reappearance”, “Cap d’Aubois, Livelovelaugh and Dicosimo have a bit to prove” while “do not give up on Riven Light” is the message from Ricci.
This weekend just past saw Turcagua pick up a somewhat fortuitous 2nd place behind Death Duty in the Grade 1 Lawlors Hotel Novice Hurdle at Naas.
“I was delighted with him and am happy to go to Cheltenham off the back of that, he is turning into a fine big horse and will appreciate an extra half mile and fences next year. American Tom took a bad fall and is fine physically but we can put a line through that run as he was coughing post-race.”
So with an upcoming lull in the calendar in Ireland it will be the 3 meetings at Leopardstown amongst others at the turn of the month before we get to sort the pecking order of the Irish contenders for Cheltenham.
“We may have a few runners in England over the next month depending on fitness and necessity, but otherwise it’s just a case of cracking on at home and finding the right races for the right horses.
I am very hopeful we will see Faugheen in the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle on January 29th. We are not there yet, but the signs are positive”