Cheltenham: Clash of Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag eagerly awaited
Move to skip Champion Hurdle with Vroum Vroum Mag sees Ricci lose hat-trick chance
Owner Rich Ricci: he said the decision to run his star mares Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag against each other at Cheltenham was “straightforward”
Owner Rich Ricci has described the decision to run his two star mares, Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag, against each other at Cheltenham on Tuesday as “straightforward”, and it has helped set up one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes for day one of the National Hunt festival.
The move to skip the Champion Hurdle with Vroum Vroum Mag – added to last week’s decision by connections not to supplement Limini into the race – means Ricci loses out on an opportunity to complete a hat-trick of victories in hurdling’s championship event.
However, the American owner now dominates the betting for the OLGB Mares Hurdle with Limini as low as 6-5 with Paddy Power and the defending champion Vroum Vroum Mag a 5-2 shot ahead of a potential Grade 1 shootout with Gigginstown’s Apple’s Jade and the JP McManus owned Jer’s Girl.
Ruby Walsh has opted to ride Limini, and Ricci said the champion jockey’s pick between the two was the most difficult choice that had to be made in the whole decision-making process between owner, jockey and trainer Willie Mullins. Paul Townend steps in for the ride on Vroum Vroum Mag.
“Nothing she’s done in her three starts this year suggest she could go into the Champion Hurdle with a live chance. It was the same with Limini, and that makes the mares race the right place to run the two of them.
“It was that straightforward and we all agreed, which is not something that always happens,” Ricci said on Sunday.
“I think Ruby was then left with a very difficult choice about which of them to ride, but I understand his call. I think it’s based on Limini going there on the back of winning a recent race and she’s been working well.
“Vroum Vroum Mag worked nicely last week, but she hasn’t been in super-top form this season, so I think that’s why Ruby has decided the way he has.”
Mullins has won eight of the nine renewals of Tuesday’s 2½-mile mares’ highlight, which this year again looks set to be dominated by Irish horses, with the ex-Closutton star Apple’s Jade also set to line up.
Irish challengeGrace Hurdle
Jessica Harrington’s Rock On The Moor is also part of the Irish challenge.
Bookmakers are betting as low as 1-5 that ground conditions for the opening day of the festival will be “good to soft,” a factor that has seen steady support for the Nicky Henderson-trained Brain Power in Champion Hurdle betting.
David Mullins’s mount has been cut to as low as 6-1 while his soft-ground loving stable companion Buveur D’Air drifted slightly. JP McManus’s other hope, Yanworth, remains a marginal 3-1 favourite.
A dozen horses remain in the Champion Hurdle overall, with Henry De Bromhead’s Petit Mouchoir set to lead an Irish raiding party which also includes the Willie Mullins pair Footpad and Wicklow Brave.
Ruby Walsh will team up with Footpad who finished three parts of a length off Petit Mouchoir in January’s Irish Champion Hurdle. Townend teams up with Wicklow Brave, who last ran when out of the money in November’s Melbourne Cup.
Prior to that Wicklow Brave landed the Irish St Leger at the Curragh, beating the 1-7 favourite, Order Of St George.