ROBERT COOPER OFF THE BOX
TV celebrity combines wit and wisdom
Surely only a stray alligator emerging from the swamp-like course can stop ENABLE (Churchill Downs 8.56) winning the Turf
Even on a dark and gloomy November afternoon Rich Ricci dons the trademark shades. The owner of jumping stars FAUGHEEN and DOUVAN and dozens more was at Lingfield Park on Thursday to watch his pink “Mr Blobby colours” as he calls them carried by LAW GIRL in the Listed Eden Fillies’ Stakes.
She finished only seventh but Ricci is the most philosophical of owners; he has to be as hot on the heels of any major triumph, disappointment can strike at random. I was hoping for a news scoop on DOUVAN who has suffered a minor setback (another one) and is currently lame on his ‘good’ leg. Ricci explains: “He has had leg trouble before with his near fore but not on this one.”
It remains a mystery why Ricci doesn’t have more horses in training in Britain. He lives in Kent and Lingfield is his local racecourse, yet most of his horses are trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins. This is another scoop that has evaded me.
However, there was positive news of FAUGHEEN who ended last season winning the Stayers Hurdle at Punchestown, but I sensed another stab at the Champion Hurdle hasn’t been ruled out. SALDIER, winner of the fouryear-old Hurdle at Punchestown could become a Champion Hurdle challenger but as Ricci points out, “the five year-old career for a top juvenile can be a very tricky one”.
He singles out Katchit as one of the very few horses to have won the Triumph Hurdle and followed up in the Champion Hurdle the next season. “I actually fancied SALDIER very strongly in the Triumph but winning at Punchestown made up for it.”
SALDIER finished well beaten in the Triumph but his progress this winter is eagerly anticipated. EL BARRA (runner up in a point to point) and the totally unexposed ANNAMIX are also worth looking out for. This time last year ANNAMIX was 10-1 ante post favourite for the 2018 Supreme Hurdle but was ruled out for the season with a pelvis injury. He has yet to set foot on a racecourse for Mullins and Ricci but is now fit and ready to make up for lost time.
Last weekend was all about WINX Down Under, and now seven days later Breeders’ Cup fever abounds. As a betting medium, it’s a dodgy business as interweaving American and European form is well nigh impossible. The danger of dispatching champions like ENABLE and ROARING LION to America is that their undisputed kudos can plummet. We are told ‘they have nothing left to prove’ – probably true, but having achieved magnificence at Longchamp and Ascot it would be a crying shame if either horse’s season, or career, ended in mediocrity at Churchill Downs. Surely only a stray alligator emerging from the swamp-like turf course can stop ENABLE (Churchill Downs 8.56) winning the Turf.
Full marks to John Gosden and his owners for attempting equine immortality, for if ROARING LION (Churchill Downs 9.44) copes with the dirt and wins the £4m Classic he could do just that. He has a lousy draw, is untried on the surface, and, as a result, drifted like a barge in the betting. However he’s a European Champion and he might surprise a few pessimists. It’s hard to believe that trainer John Sadler has won virtually every major race in the USA but is zero from 41 in the Breeders’ Cup – surely one of either ACCELERATE in the Classic, SELCOURT in the Filly and Mare Sprint (4.00 Churchill Downs) or the unbeaten CATALINA CRUISER in the Dirt Mile (5.16 Churchill Downs) can put him on the score sheet.
James Doyle was in almost unstoppable form at Lingfield on Thursday riding a treble. In a very brief chat after his third winner, he said he was jetting to Churchill Downs to ride ONE MASTER (7.36 Churchill Downs) in the Mile. William Haggas’ filly was a surprise 33/1 winner of the Prix de La Foret on Arc day at Longchamp but Doyle said: “She’s drawn low which could be very bad or very good, but she will love the soft ground.” The ground will certainly be beyond soft so if Doyle can overcome the number one gate, she could be a decent each way bet.
If only that American rain had fallen over here, but despite the quicker than usual ground conditions for the time of year there is some quality jumping this weekend. Only five horses line up for Wetherby’s Charlie Hall Chase, among them is BLACK CORTON on whom Bryony Frost won seven times last season. If in the same rich vein he must go well, but I fancy Brian Ellison’s DEFINITLY RED (2.40 Wetherby) to step up on his third in this race last year. He didn’t show his true colours in the Gold Cup but is well up to winning a race such as this. It’s been his target for some time.
LADY BUTTONS (2.05 Wetherby) showed plenty of ability over fences last winter and looks sure to return to chasing before too long. She begins her campaign in this Listed hurdle in which she looked nailed on to win last year, only to be beaten by a subsequent Grade 2 winner LA BAGUE AU ROI. She goes well fresh and should be tough to beat.
The return to two miles should suit GARDE LA VICTOIRE (2.25 ASCOT) who ran pretty well at Chepstow recently behind CHARBEL. CHAMPAGNE AT TARA who was in great form during the summer, looks the danger.
Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown clan dominate Down Royal’s JNWine.com Champion Chase with five of the seven runners – there could be an acute shortage of coloured caps.
Ryanair Chase hero BALKO DES FLOS is probably the number one string but recent fitness could be a factor and there was plenty to like about the way SUB LIEUTENANT (DOWN ROYAL 2.30) beat OUTLANDER at Punchestown. He will also provide an opportunity for the excellent Bryan Cooper (sadly no relation) to return to the limelight. After a spate of near career ending injuries Cooper has struggled for the past 12 months. A high profile winner will surely kickstart his season.
Achieving magnificence: Enable wins the Arc
Philosophical: Rich Ricci