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Hayley O’Connor: No need to fear another Ricci reversal this weekend

| 20.11.2015

While Faugheen may have undone my ‘banker’ selection last week, I’m in the camp that another Rich Ricci-owned horse, Vautour won’t be beaten at Ascot in the Stella Artois 1965 Chase.

He’s got at least 10lbs in hand with every one of his opponents except Captain Chris, who returns from a break of 644 days, but I refuse to believe there isn’t more improvement to come from Willie Mullins’ horse.

I think I’ve watched his victory in the JLT Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham about 25 times since March, he was simply breath-taking.

My brother isn’t a racing fan and I was trying to explain to him why Ruby Walsh is such an excellent jockey, and that race offered a perfect explanation.

Ruby allowed Vautour to be as absolutely amazing as he was. What sort of horse jumps like that? It was just insane!

Every time I re-watch it, it doesn’t wear off, he was so, so good.

I don’t know what will take him on in Berkshire tomorrow. His acceleration and speed over fences is simply mind-boggling.

Anyone worried about whether he will stay the trip in the King George or the Gold Cup just need to look at the way that he finished the race up the hill at Cheltenham.

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Vautour was a joy to watch over his fences at Cheltenham

Cue Card obviously looks like he is coming back into himself after his victory in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby, with the operation to help his breathing looking like it has worked wonders.

However, Silviniaco Conti is going for the third win the Betfair Chase and he’s already beaten Cue Card once before in the race and, as unoriginal as it is, I can see him doing it again at Haydock.

Paul Nicholls has said that he has been treated for skin condition sarcoids that bothered the horse last season, and you’d have to think that he is going to be spot on for this.

His trainer has suggested that his horse has improved massively for the run at Kempton when he was second over hurdles, in a race that was obviously just a warm up before he takes on four others here.

After winning this you’d expect him to go on to run in the King George, where he will bump into so very useful types, but you’d have to fancy him to put a good show on Boxing Day.

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Hard to see Silviniaco Conti beat at Haydock

It seems I will have to wait a bit longer to see the return of Willie Mullins’ Pont Alexandre.

He was entered to run at Gowran Park on Saturday to make his chasing debut, but has not been declared.

If taking up his engagement next Thursday at Thurles I will be glued to my TV.

He was well fancied for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham back in 2013, by myself and the market in general, but injured himself when finishing third to The New One.

I still believe that if he hadn’t had that set back during the race he would have beaten Nigel Twiston Davies’ charge.

I remember having a conversation with Rich Ricci a couple of years ago and he really adores him, so you’d have to think there is huge potential there.

One horse that will take in the Beginners’ Chase in County Kilkenny this weekend is Monksland, and it surprised me somewhat.

I didn’t think there was any shame in going down narrowly to Arctic Fire at Navan last week and for my money, would have been better off staying over the smaller obstacles and heading down the Ladbrokes World Hurdle route.

Nevertheless, he is declared to run, and it will be interesting to see how he fares.


Pont Alexandre’s return might just sneak under the radar

Reflecting back on last week, I have to admit that I literally had tears in my eyes watching Sprinter Sacre’s race at Cheltenham. I know the wider racing fraternity love the horse but I totally adore him.

I actually think some of his best races were when he took on Sanctuaire on a couple of occasions in 2013.

He was a really extravagant jumper and so forward going that he was almost uncontrollable in his races. When Sprinter ran against him he jumped as well as I have ever seen him, because it allowed him to show us exactly what he was made of.

Last week I think Nicky Henderson gave some really good riding instructions to say to Nico ‘if he brings you to the front, let him enjoy himself.’ The worst thing he could have done was restrain him the whole race.

When he pulled to the front like that I was left pondering whether we were seeing the old Sprinter Sacre that we have almost mourned.

However, as brilliant as he was, and even factoring in that he will likely improve for that run, he will need to be back to the quality we saw in his heyday if he is to beat Un De Sceaux at Cheltenham.

I think the young pretender is a really amazing horse and might almost be the sad ending in the fairytale.

It’s a win-win situation really. I would probably back Un De Sceaux in the race, but should the old boy put him in his place, that would be something special.


It was wonderful to see Sprinter Sacre back with a win

Seeing these horses come back and winning is what I love about National Hunt racing, and another one we saw do just that this week was Sir Des Champs.

The 2013 Gold Cup runner-up was brilliant in a Listed race at Thurles on Thursday, and there was plenty to take out of the race for fans of the horse.

Yes, he beat the 145-rated Rubi Light, but that’s not the point. He looked to returning in the same sort of form that we know he can deliver.

He also seemed to get better at his fences as the race went on, and you’d expect him to improve again next time.

His record suggests that he is one that comes on as the season progresses, and he could add yet another top-quality contender to the biggest staying-chases this term.

Sir Des Champs: Top class on his day

Sir Des Champs: Top class on his day

I may have suggested that there was no way that Faugheen would be beaten, but I was so impressed with Nichols Canyon last week.

I think what has happened, and what will continue to happen, is people have concentrated on Faugheen and how he underperformed, that they are going to forget about the performance of the winner.

Faugheen just didn’t look comfortable, he seemed to hang across the track, even before he came off the bridle, so I would worry about that.

But, Nichols Canyon was a four-time Grade 1 winner last year, we cannot forget that. His performance at Punchestown shows that we cannot discount him in the future.

I don’t think he is a horse that just took advantage of Faugheen’s misfortune; he’s a horse that won that race in excellent style and looks really talented, and will surely be there at the death in the biggest races throughout the season.

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Hayley O'Connor

Hayley O'Connor is a proud racehorse owner, breeder, self-proclaimed dreamer and PR manager at Ladbrokes. You may have even spotted her riding in the 2015 Charity Race at Cheltenham. Read her exclusive opinions at Ladbrokes News.