Zaidpour gives Ricci plenty to celebrate
RACING: In the past Rich Ricci has been labelled the “fat cat in the hat” but the American owner looked more like the cat that got the cream at Fairyhouse yesterday when his horses came within an ace of landing an unprecedented Grade One hat-trick.
Only the Bar One Racing Royal Bond defeat of Champagne Fever prevented Ricci and the trainer-jockey team of Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh from clean-sweeping the big pots at the most prestigious pre-Christmas meeting on Ireland’s National Hunt calendar.
Zaidpour carried the pink colours of Ricci’s wife Susannah to success in the €80,000 Hatton’s Grace Hurdle while Arvika Ligeonniere was a spectacular winner of the Drinmore Novice Chase.
Champagne Fever started favourite for the Royal Bond but found Jezki a length and a half too good, a niggle that even the colourful Ricci couldn’t quibble with. “A magical day,” he summed up. “It could’ve been better, but a great day.”
It certainly must have an enjoyable experience for Ricci whose job as the head of investment banking at Barclays Bank in London meant he appeared before the House Of Commons Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards last week.
Ricci’s racecourse uniform of distinctive homburg hat, tweeds and black shades despite the December cold has been among the most distinctive in Irish jump racing for the past number of years and the racecourse focus on “Cheltenham” rather than “Libor” means his affection for the sport here is undiminished.
The sense of humour that provoked him into naming one of his ever-expanding string Fatcatinthehat a couple of years ago after some unfavourable headlines on the back of the banking crisis can only have been boosted by yesterday’s action.
Arvika Ligeonniere was a revelation in the Drinmore, taking off with Walsh from the start and the closest Dedigout got was the 11 lengths in it at the line. “I wasn’t going that fast intentionally!” the jockey joked afterwards. “He was very good and I wouldn’t mind going back in trip with him.”
Willie Mullins thought the same and bookmakers took the hint, some of them slashing the French bred to 7-1 for the Arkle in March. Arvika Ligeonniere was having just his eight ever start, and only his second in over two and a half years.
“I wouldn’t be afraid to go back to two miles. Maybe that is his job. He jumped fantastic and has a tremendous cruising speed,” Mullins said.
“He’s a huge big horse and I want to get experience into him so I hope he’s entered at Christmas over Christmas. He’s got jumping ability with pace.”
Andrew Lynch on the 2011 Hatton’s Grace winner Voler La Vedette made an early move on the turn-in that briefly looked to have got Zaidpour in trouble in the feature but the 2010 Royal Bond winner was a decisive winner in the end.
“She played her cards first but our horse had the speed to come from behind,” Mullins said who pointed to three miles and a venture into Big Buck’s territory as a likely future option for Zaidpour.
Walsh is hardly likely to desert the great English stayer at Cheltenham but pointed out: “That’s his (Zaidpour) trip.” Walsh skipped his following ride due to a sore wrist.
Champagne Fever’s trip is likely to be further than the Royal Bond’s two miles after Jezki outkicked him to prevent a Mullins-Walsh-Ricci clean-sweep.
Barry Geraghty continued his big-race form and predicted even better to come for Jezki who is a 10-1 favourite in some lists for the Supreme at Cheltenham in March.
“He is a two-miler so that’s the logical way to look long-term,” said Jezki’s trainer Jessica Harrington. “We’ll see how much practise he needs before Cheltenham. I was worried about him going right-handed for the first time but once they quickened he jumped straight when it mattered.”
Champagne Fever was cut to 8-1 favourite for the Neptune.
“Going further looks the sensible thing to do,” said Mullins. “He did most things right but was going as fast as he could for a good while.”
Fairyhouse in numbers
Yesterday’s crowd, up 800 on the same meeting last year.
Bookmaker turnover, down marginally on 2011’s €573,173.
Amount bet on the Drinmore Novice Chase.
Tote aggregate, up almost €30,000 on last year. It included French PMU pool betting on the three Grade One races.