Faugheen, Douvan and Benie Des Dieux all retired

Owner Rich Ricci has announced the retirement of three of of his equine superstars in Faugheen, Douvan and Benie Des Dieux.

Faugheen in particular will go down as one of the most popular National Hunt horses of the modern era, with the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown and back-to-back victories in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton featuring on a glittering CV.

It looked as though his racing career could be over in the spring of 2019 after he was found to be suffering from a heart problem when pulling up in the Aintree Hurdle.

But the decision to embark on a career over fences the following season at the age of 11 proved a masterstroke by trainer Willie Mullins, with Faugheen winning his first three chase starts including a memorable Grade One success at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival.

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He was beaten just a length into third place when bidding for a third Cheltenham Festival success in a pulsating renewal of the Marsh Novices’ Chase in March of last year – and while connections attempted to get him back, that proved to be his final outing.

Ricci, who owns Faugheen in partnership with his wife Susannah, told The Sun: “Faugheen meant a lot to Susannah, our son George and me. He was also the favourite horse of my nephew Peter and was the impetus of his falling in love with the sport.

“Not always the most elegant at a hurdle or a fence, he was a trier and knew he was a dude.

“My favourite memory was of his Grade One novice chase win at the 2020 Dublin Racing Festival. The noise and the sprinting of the crowd to the parade ring was something I will never forget.

“We have been blessed to have owned some special horses, but Faugheen will always have a special place amongst them.”

In all Faugheen won 17 of his 26 career starts and amassed over £1million in win and place prize-money.

Ricci also confirmed Douvan and Benie Des Dieux have also run their final races.

Douvan was poetry in motion at his brilliant best
Douvan was poetry in motion at his brilliant best (PA)

Douvan won on his first 13 appearances for Mullins, including Cheltenham wins in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle Trophy.

However, he was a beaten odds-on favourite in the 2017 Queen Mother Champion Chase and has run only three times since, most recently winning the 2019 Clonmel Oil Chase.

Benie Des Dieux meanwhile won eight of her 10 starts for the all-conquering team, with her most notable triumphs coming in the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and the French Champion Hurdle at Auteuil.

She fell at the final flight when seemingly set to successfully defend her Mares’ Hurdle title in 2019, and was just touched off by the brilliant Honeysuckle when bidding to regain her crown last year.

Williams sets out Peter Marsh aim for Royal Pagaille

Impressive Kempton winner Royale Pagaille is likely to head for the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock next.

The Venetia Williams-trained novice is now rated 156 after the handicapper took retrospective action following his Christmas victory over Cap Du Nord.

Owned by Rich Ricci, he also holds an entry in Doncaster’s Sky Bet Chase but he will head to Merseyside on January 23, all being well.

“The handicapper has gone and popped him up another 2lb after (third-placed) Double Shuffle’s victory (last Saturday), which I thought was a bit punchy as he would have probably been beaten had the other horse jumped the last better,” said Williams.

“The plan, all being well, is to go to the Peter Marsh at Haydock on Saturday week. We will take it one step at a time with him.

“I got him at the sales in France two years ago, but he didn’t run for a year. It took a while to get him sorted.

“He was a tad disappointing in the first couple of runs the previous season for us, but we are thrilled that he has stepped up now. I do find it slightly intriguing that he (the handicapper) has taken the view he has in putting him up above most of the novices that have been running in the graded novices, which seems a little bit bizarre.

“You have to remember at Kempton he was running against handicappers and not all of them were at the top of their game at that stage. I’ve no doubt the second was in good form, but there were quite a few that weren’t.

“We will see how he goes at Haydock and make further decisions after that.”

Ricci has the vast majority of his horses trained in Ireland by Willie Mullins, and Williams explained: “I met Rich through Andrew Brooks (owner) a number of years ago.

“We’ve met up on a few occasions since and he said a few years ago to get in touch if I found a nice horse, so I’m delighted to have found one.”