Rich Ricci revealed how he overruled top trainer Willie Mullins with Cheltenham star Vauban.
The 6-4 favourite gave punters a flying start to Gold Cup day, powering up the hill in the JBC Triumph Hurdle. Paul Townend's mount put in a novicey jump at the final flight, then changed gear to collect by two-and-a-half lengths from Fil Dor.
The success was a sixth of the week for Mullins, who leads the trainers' standings – and chases a fourth straight title. But Vauban might not have even been at Cheltenham, had it not been for Ricci's persistence. He chuckled as he told how it all came about. "I was having a war with Willie because none of our horses were running very well at the beginning of this season. We didn't have that many." he said.
"And he wanted to keep him for next year. We were happy to do that with some of ours, we bought quite a few last year that we have put away.
"This fella, I just didn't have enough runners and quality. We are in a transitioning year as I have been talking about and I just said 'look run him and let's see how he gets on.' If he doesn't (do well) then we have got a horse for next year.
"But he came out and won a Grade 1 at Leopardstown, this was always the plan. He really ran because our string wasn't firing at the time and I thought he was supposed to be good one so let's have a go."
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Ricci's "best chance of the week", well-backed in the build-up, could turn into a smart Flat campaigner as well as over jumps. Vauban is 7-1 with the bookies for next years Champion Hurdle. "They have been raving about the horse forever," Ricci added. "He's got some boot, his breeders are here which I'm delighted about from France – they are so excited."
Mullins has a good chance of beating his overall best Festival total of eight winners, a record he shares with Gordon Elliott, on the rest of the card. He moved onto seven with State Man in the second contest of the day,
Later, he has Hunters Chase favourite Billaway to come, plus well-fancied Mares' Chase contenders Elimay and Concertista. In the Gold Cup, he runs dual winner Al Boum Photo, Tornado Flyer and Asterion Forlonge.
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