Every Tuesday between now and Cheltenham - and the meeting begins in just five weeks - leading owner and BetBright Chairman Rich Ricci will pen a countdown blog. Ricci’s famous pink and green colours have been carried to many big race wins over the past few years but after the news last week that Annie Power will miss the Festival, Monday brought even more bad tidings when it was confirmed that Faugheen and Min have been both ruled out of the Prestbury Park extravaganza.
Yesterday’s news wasn’t brilliant, that’s for sure. In any normal year, to lose either Faugheen or Min from your Cheltenham team would be hard to take. But to lose both - and on the back of what has been an attritional few weeks - was particularly galling.
As I said here last week I’m a next-trade kind of guy and you’ve got to make the most of what you have.
Right now we’ve got to figure out what to do with the rest of the season and the only one we have on the team with a poor prognosis in terms of the rest of the campaign is Annie Power.
Both Faugheen and Min should be able to compete later in the spring, so when you look at the bright side, yesterday’s bolt from the blue is just really bad news in a Cheltenham Festival context, no worse than that.
In Faugheen’s case, given the race we wanted him to line up for at Cheltenham would have been so competitive, you would really want to be getting stuck into him in training now, and that isn’t possible. Likewise with Min.
It just goes to show with racehorses, so wonderful and so fragile, anything can happen.
It’s funny, before I spoke to Willie yesterday and got the bad news, I had been earlier saying to him that I had the feeling we would go through all this emotion of getting Faugheen ready in time for Cheltenham in a right hurry, and then find out the day before the Champion Hurdle that he wouldn’t make it! It all happened a bit sooner than I feared.
"Douvan will hopefully lead the team and obviously goes there with a big shout. But there are no shoo-ins at Cheltenham and even though we don’t know yet who will take him on, I think for a number of reasons he will face the biggest test of his career there"
I know that so much went right for us last year and we had a stunning Cheltenham. But we have also lost over a dozen horses in the past 12 months so we’ve had a really tough run of it injury-wise too.
When that happens you’ve got to ask yourself some hard questions. Does this happen to everybody or is it just our run of bad luck?
For now we still have plenty to look forward to and I’ll be spending the next few weeks trying to figure out with Willie the best races for my horses at Cheltenham.
Douvan will hopefully lead the team and obviously goes there with a big shout. But there are no shoo-ins at Cheltenham and even though we don’t know yet who will take him on, I think for a number of reasons he will face the biggest test of his career there.
It’s the instinct of many that his least impressive performances have been at Cheltenham. That might sound harsh given how impressive he was in the Supreme Novices and the Arkle, but he has set the bar pretty high with everything he has done.
I don’t know if those arguments are right and whether the track or the likely good ground take a percentage from him, but either way you couldn’t be anything but incredibly excited about him lining up next month.
So Douvan goes there with a great chance and we have others too. Getabird looks like he could go very close in the Champion Bumper; Vroum Vroum Mag has lots of options and will be competitive in whatever race she runs in; Limini is a much stronger mare than last year and is in good form but also has not run since Punchestown last year; and Let’s Dance would have a very good chance in any of the novice races she is entered in.
"I think our novice hurdle team is one of quantity over quality and while our novice chase division has lost Min, Royal Caviar and hopefully American Tom are no back numbers and deserve to take their chances.
All in all, no matter what ways you move the chess pieces around, there’s enough to keep the fire going.
I notice one of my horses, Chacun Pour Soi, has come in for support for the Martin Pipe Conditionals hurdle on the final day of the festival and he is a horse we like a lot.
He has already won his hurdle in France last season so is not a novice anymore, and it was just a sense that we would be sending him over fences too young if we took that decision this winter. We’ve done that only once before - and that was Djakadam - and so I’m more than happy to sit it out and wait for him.
The one thing I’d say to those thinking about backing him for Cheltenham though, is that he is a horse for the future and while he could still turn up for the festival it would be a big ask for him to do so first time out for us.
*BetBright sponsor the BetBright Cup, a competition marking the intense rivalry between Irish-trained horses at Cheltenham, and the home contingent.