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Rich Ricci excited as ever as another Cheltenham Festival looms

His team will not have the star names heading to Cheltenham that it has in the past, but in a period of rebuilding top owner Rich Ricci can still look forward to some serious chances at the Festival next week.

Among them is Vauban, who is as short as 6-4 favourite for the JCB Triumph Hurdle on Gold Cup day.

A winner in his native France, the Galiway gelding made a most promising start for Willie Mullins at Punchestown in December, going down by half a length to Pied Piper.

That form has been shown to be rock solid, with Pied Piper winning in real style at Cheltenham and Vauban taking Grade One honours at the Dublin Racing Festival when beating Pied Piper’s Gordon Elliott-trained stablemate Fil Dor by three lengths.

The three are set to clash again, and Ricci told Sky Sports Racing: “He’s a Listed winner on the Flat in France and I think he’s got the potential to be a dual-purpose horse, but he can also jump.

“He’s got a bit of class about him, I know Willie likes him. He didn’t want to run him this year and save him for next year’s Supreme, but because my team was low on stars I wanted to run the horse.

“It was great he won at Leopardstown and in time he could be a Melbourne Cup horse. I’d love to have a runner again and I think this guy could be that calibre.”

Gaelic Warrior has yet to see the track since his move to Ireland but has been all the rage for the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle on the opening afternoon.

“I’ve never seen him in the flesh or work or run, this whole plot is really down to Joe Chambers (racing manager) who had been following the French form after we bought him and saw what the horses around him did,” Ricci said.

“Some were rated in the 150s and I think one might have been in the 160s.

“We entered him on Trials weekend at Cheltenham to see what mark he would get, I was hoping he would keep his French mark of 139 and the English handicapper gave him 129, much to our delight.

“He’s become a talking horse, but he’s not my first talking horse and probably won’t be my first talking to lose if he does lose.

“Willie wouldn’t tell me what the horse was, but a week ago he said he worked well with a really, really good horse. He was very, very pleased with his work. He thought if he got him to Cheltenham in that shape he’d be hard to beat, so we’ll see.

“I’m excited about it. We’ll give it a go, I can’t believe the price he is.”

Can Chacun Pour Soi show his best at Cheltenham
Can Chacun Pour Soi show his best at Cheltenham (Niall Carson/PA)

Day two for the Ricci team is all about Chacun Pour Soi and his clash with Shishkin and Energumene in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Connections have long felt he has not yet shown his true self outside of Ireland, but retain maximum faith in his ability.

Ricci said: “If Irish Chac turns up he’s got a great chance – if English Chac turns up we’ve got no chance.

“He’s 10 now. We thought we’d give it another go. I’m not sure who Paul(Townend) is going to ride, I’m happy if Paul rides or Patrick (Mullins), or any of Willie’s other jockeys. But I’d imagine they would be the two.

“If Irish Chac shows up he’s got a great chance, I thought he looked really well at Leopardstown. We’ve changed tactics this year, Willie has left a little bit to work on because maybe he had him too right (last year) and he lost a little bit travelling and wasn’t fully fit on the day.

“It’s a fantastic race, Willie would love to win the race and I’d love this lad to win it. He’s been a horse who has had some bad luck and it would be great if he won.

“Willie thinks the world about him, you’ve heard him rave about the horse. On his day I think he’s every bit as good as Shishkin – I’m not expecting us to get lapped.”

Royale Pagaille is bound for the Gold Cup
Royale Pagaille is bound for the Gold Cup (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

A few hours after Vauban has strutted his stuff, Ricci can look forward to the Gold Cup with Royale Pagaille

Venetia Williams’ charge was a creditable sixth to Minella Indo last year and returned this season to finish second to A Plus Tard in the Betfair Chase, before producing a fine weight-carrying performance to win the Tommy Whittle Chase for the second time.

He was last seen taking the runner-up sport behind Eldorado Allen in the Denman Chase at Newbury.

Ricci said: “Last year he ran an extraordinary race, he was outpaced and lost three shoes in the race and did some really bad damage to his right front hoof. We were really worried about him after the race. Venetia and the vets did a fantastic job.

“I was really hoping we’d get the rain, I think he’s a different animal on soft ground. On that (quicker ground) I would worry about running into a place with the exception of the last day at Newbury as I thought that was the best he’s jumped since he’s been in this country.

“That gave me some hope. I think If he jumps like he did at Newbury he’s got a chance of running into a place. Hopefully he’ll run a big race.”

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