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Ricou riding wins praise.

French jockey Jacques Ricou produced a polished performance to win the Pillar Property Chase on Jair Du Cochet at Cheltenham on Saturday to silence his British critics.

Ricou's riding style, the subject of so much debate in the run-up to the race as connections briefly toyed with replacing him, had never looked tidier.

The Cheltenham crowd gave the rider a warm welcome and notably loud round of applause as he saluted them on his return to the winner's enclosure on Guillaume Macaire's charge.

Ricou admitted he had felt under pressure in the build-up to the race, which focused upon the possibility of him losing the ride.

"Of course it was difficult," he said. "I don't want to lose my horse and I want to say thank you to Mr Macaire and Mr Montauban for sticking with me.

"It is easy to criticise a jockey. When a footballer doesn't score a goal, everybody gets on his back, but that is life.

"He jumped better today and I took him into the lead because the pace was not fast enough for me. He made some little mistakes but he was better when he could go at his own speed.

"I do not train the horse, I am just the jockey. Mr Macaire is the best trainer in France and he will decide what is best for the horse now."

There is no decision yet on Jair Du Cochet's Cheltenham Festival target. Whether the seven-year-old runs in the Tote Cheltenham Gold Cup remains to be seen, with Macaire emphasising that the gelding could yet take the alternative Festival option of the Cathcart Chase.

In truth, Jair Du Cochet's success here was possibly aided by the fall of favourite Therealbandit, who was travelling strongly under Tony McCoy when making a mistake at the fourth-last fence and stumbling to the ground.

By that stage of the race, Ricou had already brought the 11-4 winner through to take up the lead.

And despite Rince Ri - the outsider of the field at 14-1 - briefly looking as if he might be able to make a challenge, Ricou shook the reins at the leader, who pulled clear on the run to the final fence and won by an easy 12 lengths.

Macaire's relief at seeing his charge return to winning ways after a dreadful effort in the Pertemps King George VI Chase at Kempton last time out was evident.

"I know my horse, I know my team," he said. "It is a good result for the team, for me, for Jacques, for everybody.

"It is not the same type of race at Kempton, not the same pace, not the same track. He was finished after two jumps that day.

"Today he was himself and I am very pleased. He likes this track and he always runs well here. In racing, there is only one judge and that is the winning post.

"He was ready to give his best today and his jumping was perfect."

But Macaire refused to commit his charge to the Cheltenham Gold Cup, despite bookmakers quoting Jair Du Cochet as short as 6-1.

"We will see what we decide - time will tell," he said. "I need to talk to the owner.

"We will be in Best Mate's kingdom in the Gold Cup and I am not sure if we want to do that. The Cathcart is the other choice."
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 26, 2004
Words:563
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