A new attitude to the Cheltenham Gold Cup will develop after the Pillar Chase at Prestbury Park on Saturday, but, sadly for Jacques Ricou, there will be no reassessment of his riding abilities. Whatever happens.
The Frenchman, who partners the probable favourite in Jair Du Cochet, could carry his mount on his shoulders to victory and still get criticised for going too fast on the first circuit. That is what it has become to be a Gallic jockey in England. Ask Thierry Doumen.
Even the greatest of limbo dancers would struggle to get under Ricou's reputation on this side of La Manche. This disapproval is based on the nature of his technique - he seems to be grabbing for the moon at plenty of his obstacles - and the single instance of his ride on Saturday's mount in last season's Royal & SunAlliance Chase, in which the partnership came from somewhere behind Cleeve Hill to finish strongly into second behind One Knight.
Yet Jair Du Cochet has won big races with Ricou on his back, and it is an insult to Guillaume Macaire, France's leading National Hunt trainer, to suggest he would compromise the fortunes of his horses with a duff pilot.
Macaire admires the all-round jockeyship of Ruby Walsh, but will stick by Ricou if only because he does not wish to set the boat rocking. "There has been pressure, but you must remember I do not have just this horse to run," the trainer said yesterday. "I have a lot of horses to take care of and it's very important for me to maintain a good mood at home. We do not want to have trouble between the guys at home.
"I had more than 200 winners last season and that is possible only with a very good and happy team. There must be confidence and loyalty among all the guys at home.
"Anyway, I'm not sure to find the same jockey all the time in England and it's a very important point for me to work with the same rider all the time. I'm looking after a career of a horse and not just one race.
"I am quite sure that the English jockeys are able to extract the last piece of energy from a horse. But that is not exactly what I want. I want to manage the career of my horse. To keep him safe for as long as possible. And this is still a young horse. He is still a seven-year-old. He is still climbing up to a new stage every season. I hope to continue that."
It is an oddity that Ricou is seen as the untrustworthy element in the French camp while Jair Du Cochet himself has thrown in two beautifully contrasting efforts here this season. In November he looked imperious as he became only the third horse to beat Best Mate over fences, in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon.
On Boxing Day he looked rubbish as he ran a stinker in the King George VI Chase at Kempton. Ricou was almost unseated at the fourth fence that day as the favourite dragged himself round before being pulled up four out.
"We have beaten Best Mate, but maybe it was by chance," Macaire added. "The horse is okay for Saturday, but after the black day last time it is necessary for us and the horse to get some confidence. He was just not in the race. After one mistake he was absolutely finished. It was a false race.
"At least he has been more successful at Cheltenham and the pace will be totally different. Many points are different. After Saturday we will have a point of view for the rest of the season. Maybe it will be the Gold Cup and maybe it will be the Cathcart, but we will try to enjoy it.
"At the moment I have no runners in France and to come to England is good entertainment for me. England is just like holidays for me."
Nap: Lazy But Lively
NB: Collier Hill
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