Cheltenham Festival 2023: Rich Ricci’s key runners –

Rich Ricci's distinctive pink and green silks have been carried by some Cheltenham greats down the years, including Faugheen and Vautour, and he has some leading contenders again this year. John Ingles assesses his key runners.
French import Gaelic Warrior was all the rage for his debut for Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci in last year’s Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle, so much so he was sent off at 13/8, making him the shortest-priced favourite for a handicap at a modern-day Cheltenham Festival. In the end, being beaten a short head by Brazil might have been a blessing in disguise as it preserved his novice status for another season.
He’s progressed further this term, winning all three of his races, and, after being found easy opportunities at Tramore and Clonmel, he was a shorter price for the Liffey Handicap Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival than he had been at Cheltenham despite racing off a stone higher mark and carrying top weight. That should have been a more competitive race but Gaelic Warrior landed odds of 10/11 after travelling typically strongly throughout. He has the form to go close in one of the novice hurdles this year, the only concern being his tendency to jump right.
The Riccis have won the Champion Hurdle twice with Faugheen and Annie Power but realistically can probably hope for place money at best with this year’s contender Vauban. He’s a high-class hurdler though, and at the age of five still not the finished article either, so should have further progress to make, while he’s already a Cheltenham Festival winner, having won the Triumph Hurdle last year in between other Grade 1 wins at Leopardstown and Punchestown which made him the season’s best juvenile.
He’s trained on well in the notoriously tricky second season for hurdlers of his age but faces a stiff task in the Champion Hurdle just to turn the tables on his top-class stablemate State Man, let alone to trouble favourite Constitution Hill. Vauban has been placed behind State Man at Leopardstown in both runs this season and looked sure to have benefited from a stronger gallop when around five lengths third to him in the Irish Champion Hurdle last time.
Chapeau de Soleil’s reputation was such that he was ante-post favourite for the Champion Bumper before he’d even made his debut under Rules. The winner of his only start in points, Chapeau de Soleil was consequently sent off at 4/6 for his first – and, so far, only – start in a four-year-old bumper at Fairyhouse in December. There were only five runners for what proved a slowly-run race in heavy ground, and Chapeau de Soleil made the running on sufferance until getting outpaced on the home turn. However, after running green, he rallied well in the final furlong, for all he was flattered to be beaten just over three lengths behind the eased-down winner Better Days Ahead, another Champion Bumper entry.
Other stablemates have made a more pressing case for the Champion Bumper in the meantime which has resulted in Chapeau de Soleil slipping down the pecking order but he looks sure to improve granted more of a test of stamina.
Ten-year-old Sharjah has been a fine servant for the Riccis, not only winning four editions of the Matheson Hurdle at Leopardstown but also twice finishing runner-up in the Champion Hurdle behind the mares Epatante and Honeysuckle. He’s entered in the Champion Hurdle again, but would struggle to hold his own this year, and in the Stayers’ Hurdle despite only ever having raced at two miles, whereas the County Hurdle looks a much more attractive option.
Despite potentially carrying top weight, Sharjah looks on a very fair BHA mark of 155 given he retains plenty of ability this season, and is 9 lb higher than on only his previous start in a handicap when winning the Galway Hurdle back in 2018. If he can cut out the odd bad mistake which has blighted some of his recent starts, he’s capable of a big showing in a race that’s likely to be run to suit given he travels strongly and is delivered from off the pace by regular partner Patrick Mullins.
Lossiemouth bids to become a second consecutive Triumph winner in the Ricci colours after Vauban last year and she looks the one to beat despite suffering a first defeat in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival, a race which Vauban, as well as the previous year’s Triumph winner Quilixios, had won on the way to following up at Cheltenham. Lossiemouth has to be considered an unlucky loser, though, as she met significant interference just as the race was heating up.
Shuffled back leaving the back straight, she was then forced wide on the home turn when trying to regain her position and stayed on well in the straight to pull clear of the rest but couldn’t peg back stablemate Gala Marceau who always looked like holding on for a two-and-a-half length victory. A winner at Auteuil on her debut, Lossiemouth had impressed on her first two starts for Mullins and given a sound beating to Gala Marceau over the same course and distance on her previous start.
Gold Cup day could be a big one for the Riccis as, in addition to Lossiemouth and Sharjah, they have another with strong claims in the Mares’ Chase. Allegorie de Vassy is unbeaten in four starts since joining Mullins and had been on course for the Festival last year until chipping a bone in her hock. She had 11 months off the track as a result but has left her hurdles form behind this term with a couple of wide-margin wins over fences in Grade 2 novice chases for mares which make her an exciting chasing prospect.
She had any amount in hand after tanking through her race on her chasing debut at Limerick in December and followed up in similar fashion when making all at Thurles last time, overcoming an early scare when almost unseating at the first. Impervious should ensure that Allegorie de Vassy doesn’t have things all her own way at Cheltenham, but she has every chance for a stable that has won the first two editions of the Mares’ Chase.
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