Ricci keen 'to crack on' towards Champion with Faugheen as tests continue
Faugheen's 2018 Unibet Champion Hurdle challenge is still alive after Rich Ricci said they would "crack on" with his campaign towards the Cheltenham Festival as long as no major issue emerges to explain his shock defeat at Leopardstown.
The brilliant winner of the 2015 Champion Hurdle, who had gained superstar status for a career in which he had been beaten only once before he lined up in the Ryanair Hurdle, was the subject of one of the biggest upsets of any season when he was pulled up and dismounted with two to jump in a race for which he started 1-6 favourite.
Giving an update on Faugheen on Monday, trainer Willie Mullins said: "He didn't eat up on Friday night after the race. Our vet checked him out on Sunday morning and he was sound and seemed fine. However, other tests are ongoing and we'll just have to wait and see if they reveal anything."
Ricci had a more positive outlook and expressed a wish to join Nicky Henderson, trainer of Champion Hurdle favourite Buveur D'Air in a "conga on the Cotswolds" if Faugheen shows up at the festival, for which he is now a 13-2 chance with Sky Bet.
"Barring anything popping up of a more serious nature this week we'll crack on," he said in an interview with The Racing Club on talkSPORT2 radio.
"Whether he goes for the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown at their winter festival in February or he goes straight to Cheltenham I don't know, but our intention at the moment is to absolutely crack on.
"Hopefully it's just one of those things and, as Nicky says, we can have that conga in the Cotswolds to look forward to."
Ricci was nursing a Christmas hangover from a holiday season in which Faugheen was pulled up in wife Susannah's silks. and so too Djakadam. Min was disqualified and Sharjah fall at the last at the end of a month in which Douvan was ruled out of the festival.
"It was a very difficult week," he said. "Min losing in the stewards' room was the right decision, but it was still difficult to take. Faugheen disappointing was a real killer.
"Paul [Townend, jockey] said afterwards he just didn't feel right from the time he got down to the start. He was a bit listless, wasn't himself, didn't have the same enthusiasm. Cilaos Emery came up inside him and Faugheen would normally pick up the bit and just crack on. When he didn't I knew we were in trouble.
"He was fine after the race. We got him home. He's normal, which is good news. He's not lame, there are no leg issues.
"I'm hoping in the next day or two something comes out where he has been incubating a cold. That would be the best-case scenario. Paul did the right thing in pulling him up. It's one of those things where he didn't feel right and Paul didn't want to take any chances with that."
Ricci said Djakadam's display in the Christmas Chase, in which Gold Cup winner Sizing John also disappointed, was "the more head-scratching performance of the week. I don't have any explanation for that."
He added: "The only thing was maybe the John Durkan took more out of him and Sizing John. It was only 18 days between races. They both ran horribly. Other than that he's absolutely fine. We'll freshen him up. The plan is to go for the Cheltenham Gold Cup."
Min was demoted to second in the Paddy's Reward Club Chase for interference to Simply Ned in the closing stages.
Ricci said: "Min was lit up by the Gigginstown horse. When I saw him coming past the stands for the first time he looked so keen, almost out of control. His head was cocked to the right, he was moving so fast.
"I reckon he lost the race in the first half-mile, not the last 150 yards. He'll head towards the Leopardstown winter festival and the Champion Chase there."
Ricci remained hopeful that Douvan, who was ruled out of the festival because of intermittent lameness, could make an appearance before the end of the campaign.
"We're still not entirely convinced we know what's wrong with him," he said. "He's absolutely fine at the moment. We're waiting for a report from France to see what we need to do. At the moment he's doing plenty of walking.
"He's one I would most like to get back. He deserves a chance to do himself justice. He was such a fantastic and exciting horse for the whole of racing. I would love to have him back to show what he really can do. I'm hoping we could get a run into him this season. We'll have to see what the vets say."
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