Sunday 17 December 2017

'People have latched onto Annie Power... she got off the deck to win' - Ricci

Owner Rich Ricci waves to the crowd after Vroum Vroum Mag won the OLBG Mares' Hurdle (SPORTSFILE)
Owner Rich Ricci waves to the crowd after Vroum Vroum Mag won the OLBG Mares' Hurdle (SPORTSFILE)

Kevin Garside

This, said owner Rich Ricci, is what sport is all about, the day of a lifetime, our greatest victory. We can forgive him the hyperbole. He was, after all, talking about a comeback triumph on the very turf that stole his dreams a year ago.

"Go on, Annie, go on!" That famous Cheltenham roar, in this case a redemptive exhortation put to those words, rang out across the vale.

Even those whose Geld was not riding on Annie Power were with this mare of mares. How could it have been otherwise as she reprised the fateful strides that were her undoing in 2015?

In the imagination that final hurdle doubled in size as she eviscerated the field, just as she had done in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle.

Annie Power has lost only twice in her career, both times on this sacred turf. The last was so utterly devastating since the race was all but won.

No mistake this time. Hoof perfect was our Annie, Ruby Walsh celebrating with a fist pump that would have put a rhino on its back.

Ricci was awash with felicity. He is not short of winners. Indeed, he had earlier witnessed the victory of a horse he believes might just be the best he has owned, Douvan, in the Arkle Trophy.

That was a technical triumph of the superior beast, and entirely expected. The heart that shattered 12 months ago, when Annie Power somehow lost her footing, has yet to quicken for him.

"I'm delighted for the horse, the trainer and the jockey. It does not get any better than that. A great moment in sport," said Ricci, who beforehand claimed he would have traded every win he has ever had at Cheltenham for an Annie Power success.

"You bet. That's how it feels. It's great to be a part of it. I didn't watch it apart from the last hurdle. I could not believe it was happening. After last year you could not have made it up. It meant something to Ruby, you could see that.

"People have latched on to Annie Power. The only place she has lost is here. She got off the deck to win. She is so tough."

What you want of any sport is authenticity, and a committed audience that knows what it sees and cares deeply about outcomes.

A record first-day crowd of 67,000 fed through the turnstiles, packing the grandstands and stalls with pent-up excitement.

The noise when that first tape of the week went up shook the birds from the trees.

This annual gathering is a curious meld of extremes, the tweed-clad aficionado sharing the same ground as the equine elites and the overdressed party animals, whose day is often a downward spiral from the moment the bars open, rescued only when a bet comes in.

Min would have cost them a few quid in the opening race, the Willie Mullins-trained favourite demonstrating the fallibility of even the best-backed animals when trailing second in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. There was little to be made on Douvan in the next.

Mullins reckons Douvan is the horse of his career, the one all trainers hope comes their way.

Vaniteux fell two out, so hard was he pushing to keep pace.

Douvan, a thrilling winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, justified the brouhaha in a way Min could not to embellish a legend that, if Mullins is right, might thrust him into that class of memory more readily associated with the horse that gave its name to the race.

A Gold Cup horse of the future was the verdict of Mullins. Ricci described him as a "monster". This we can interpret as a compliment.

"I don't know how else to describe him," Ricci said. "I watched that race. I never watch them but he is that good, even I can watch him. He could be really special.

"Willie says he is the best he has ever had. He is certainly the best we have had." (© Independent News Service)

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