Ricci's Cup gamble could provide biggest thrill
Rich Ricci has described paying £150,000 to run Vauban in the Lexus Melbourne Cup as "a massive punt" - but the big-race gamble's owner believes the former Cheltenham Festival winner is the perfect candidate to give him the biggest victory of his racing life.
Ricci has been predictably popular with the media since arriving in Melbourne, where coverage of the Australia's greatest horserace has increasingly centred on the 2022 Triumph Hurdle hero, a best-priced 5-2 to land a prize whose 24-runner field also includes his Willie Mullins-trained stable companion Absurde.
Mullins and Ricci will both be seeking a first success in the Flemington spectacular having previously come close to glory with Max Dynamite, a half-length second in 2015 before finishing third two years later, when Ricci's pink and green silks were also carried by sixth home Thomas Hobson.
Vauban will start a much shorter price than either of those horses having thrashed Absurde at Royal Ascot before following up in Group 3 company at Naas.
"To target the Melbourne Cup you need the right horse - and this guy is the right horse," said Ricci.
"With both Max Dynamite and Thomas Hobson, the Melbourne Cup was probably an opportunistic and optimistic afterthought. With Vauban, it has been a plan.
"I spoke about wanting to target the Melbourne Cup when I was interviewed straight after the Triumph Hurdle but this was really the plan from the time we bought him. We've always thought he has so much talent that he might be the one."
Ricci added: "As well as having the right horse, you also need the right trainer, and when I say that I mean both Willie and David Casey, who has done such a brilliant job for us in Australia. On top of that, you need the right owner because you've got to have the stones to put up the money to come down here. When you put together all the different parts of the equation, the cost is about £150,000, which is the price of a horse. It's a massive punt. As well as all that, you need a bit of luck."
The multiple Cheltenham Festival-winning owner had luck very much on his side when he selected stall three in the barrier draw ceremony that took place after racing at Flemington on Saturday. Last year's winner Gold Trip and fellow leading fancy Soulcombe will start either side of Vauban in stalls two and four. Absurde will begin from box eight, with Caulfield Cup winner Without A Doubt handed a wide stall-16 berth.
"I feel the pressure and I don't want to let people down," said Ricci. "It's an honour and a pleasure to be part of this, and it's great to have the favourite, but I know I'll feel nervous come the race and I won't be watching Vauban. I did watch Max Dynamite's first Melbourne Cup with Ruby Walsh. During the course of the three and a half minutes he got through a whole packet of fags and a lot of swear words."
Walsh and Patrick Mullins are among those who will be cheering on Vauban at Flemington, where the five-year-old seeks to become Ireland's fifth winner of the Melbourne Cup, 30 years after Vintage Crop transformed the contest.
"This is such a special place and I was so impressed with how we were treated when we first came down," said Ricci.
"I had done a lot of business in Australia before I ever raced a horse here, so I knew how important the Melbourne Cup is to Australia. I once took clients to lunch in Sydney on Cup day and it felt like the whole city was out watching the race. It was the same when I was in Perth.
"The race immediately captured my fancy and I think it's the same for a lot of jumps owners. So many of them say to me that if they could win one Flat race, it would be the Melbourne Cup. It really would be great to win."
Asked to rate the prospects of that dream coming true, Ricci sounded an ominous warning for the favourite's opponents.
"Vauban is very short in the betting but we do think he could be a horse for the big Cup races back home - and if we're right about that he should have a few pounds in hand," said Ricci. "We know he'll stay, and although the ground is a slight worry, it will be watered and safe. Ryan Moore also asked to ride the horse before he weighed in at Ascot and it's great to have him.
"First and foremost we are National Hunt people but to win the Melbourne Cup would be right there at the very top. I would absolutely love to win it. Fortune will hopefully favour the brave."
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