Rich Ricci relying on proven ‘stalwart’ Douvan at Punchestown

QIPCO extends Irish Champion Stakes sponsorship by three years

Rich Ricci: “Touchwood he stays healthy, we’ve not had the best of luck this season. But he’s our stalwart. He’s flying the flag.” Photograph:  Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Rich Ricci: “Touchwood he stays healthy, we’ve not had the best of luck this season. But he’s our stalwart. He’s flying the flag.” Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

 

Luck has appeared to desert Rich Ricci more than once this season but the colourful American owner is already looking towards Cheltenham’s Queen Mother Champion Chase with his “stalwart” – superstar Douvan.

 Unbeaten in eight starts over fences, and as short as 1-3 to lift the two-mile crown in March, Douvan should enjoy little more than a lucrative workout in Sunday’s Grade Two Boylesports Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown.

 Just a handful of potential opponents remain in contention to take on Ireland’s top rated steeplechaser after Tuesday’s forfeit stage and the official best of them, Smashing, is rated almost 20lbs inferior to Douvan.

“I’d like to get one more run into him. That would be great. And then roll on the Champion Chase at Cheltenham,” said Ricci.  Just last week Ricci saw injury rule out both Faugheen and Min from Grade One races at Leopardstown and a few days prior to that his Champion Hurdle winning mare Annie Power had to be scratched from running at the Cheltenham festival.

 Earlier this season, the owner’s triple-festival winning star, Vautour, was fatally injured in a paddock accident at home.

 Ricci, who joked at the weekend he’s going to “keep buyin’ and tryin’” is unsurprisingly a huge fan of Douvan, a horse unbeaten in a dozen starts since arriving at Willie Mullins’s yard.

Quite aggressive

 Mullins issued an upbeat bulletin and said: “I have been happy with Douvan since Leopardstown and the Tied Cottage comes at a nice time for him. It’s a track that he has won at twice over hurdles and last season over fences as a novice.”

 Melon’s impressive hurdling debut at the weekend has propelled him to the top of the Supreme Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham and Cilaos Emery, a 10-1 shot for the Supreme, could bid to cement a festival place of his own in Sunday’s Listed Novice Hurdle.

 He is one of four Mullins entries in the race but one of the others, Asthuria, also has an option in Saturday’s Grade Three Coolmore Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse.

 Both Asthuria and another of Saturday’s entries, Barra, are 10-1 in ante-post betting for the Dawn Run Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham in March. Redhotfillypeppers is 14-1 for that festival race but is entered for Saturday’s Listed Mares Bumper.

 In other news, Leopardstown officials have confirmed QIPCO has extended its sponsorship of the Group One Irish Champion Stakes by a further three years. The Champion Stakes, won last year by Almanzor, was Europe’s top rated race in 2016 and was rated inferior only to the Breeders Cup Classic worldwide.

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