Talking Horses: Benie Des Dieux romp puts mare on course for Cheltenham

Greg Wood and Chris Cook

Benie Des Dieux is odds-on with most bookmakers for the Mares’ Hurdle on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival after making a hugely impressive return to action in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park on Thursday afternoon.

Willie Mullins’s nine-year-old was a narrow even-money favourite for the Grade Two contest ahead of the multiple Grade One winner Apple’s Jade, who returned to winning form at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting. The anticipated head-to-head did not materialise, however, as Apple’s Jade faded quickly from three out before being pulled up before the second-last flight, while Benie Des Dieux drew clear of the field under a tight rein at the same stage of the race.

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Willie Mullins compared Benie Des Dieux favourably with his outstanding Champion Hurdle winner, Annie Power, after she crossed the line 21 lengths in front of stable companion Penhill, the 2018 Stayers’ Hurdle winner, with another Mullins-trained runner, Kilultagh Vic, back in third.

“I think she could be better,” Mullins said. “She went to France last year and took on their best mare in the French Champion Hurdle, and beat her. She beats Apple’s Jade most times, and to me, she’s a serious, serious talent.”

Benie Des Dieux was the unfortunate star in a moment of high drama at last year’s Festival when she fell at the last in the Mares’ Hurdle with the race at her mercy, just as Annie Power – in the same pink colours of Rich Ricci – had done in the same race in 2015.

She is now the shortest-priced market leader for any race at this year’s Festival meeting, and no bigger than evens to win the Mares’ Hurdle. She also holds an entry in the Stayers’ Hurdle, however, and a meeting with the hugely popular Paisley Park, last year’s winner of the race, has not been ruled out.

“When she was coming up the straight today, I said to myself, that has Stayers’ written all over it,” Mullins said. “I’ll have to chat to Rich [Ricci, her owner]. I don’t know, the ground is going to be right for her in the Mares’ Hurdle, they always have softer ground on the first couple of days of the Festival and it’s drying out by the third day. The obvious one to go for is the Mares’, but I’d certainly have to have a look at the other race. We’ll see what we all think.” Greg Wood

Gérald Mossé hails British rehab facilities as best in world

The rehabbing facilities available to jockeys in Britain have been hailed as the best in the world by Gérald Mossé, who speaks with authority after more than three decades of riding in many different countries around the globe. Mossé, who has ridden winners of the Arc and the Melbourne Cup, is spending this week at Oaksey House, the Injured Jockeys Fund’s facility in Lambourn, with the aim of getting back in the saddle in mid-February after sustaining what he describes as a minor injury in Bahrain at the end of last year.

“I’ve been lucky in my career, never to be injured too much,” said Mossé between treatment sessions on Wednesday, “but what I will say is, it is amazing. This place really provides the jockey with everything needed to be able to get the best treatment, helping you to go back as quick as possible.”

A muddy Gérald Mossé riding on a wet day at Ascot. Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

Mossé, who has a home in Newmarket and has based himself in Britain in recent seasons after spending much of his career in France and Hong Kong, went first for assistance to the IJF’s Peter O’Sullevan House and was referred on to Oaksey, which has an anti-gravity treadmill that ought to be particularly helpful in speeding his recovery.” It is the best place we can find to get me back to business as soon as possible.

“It is a wonderful set-up. They don’t have it [in France]. You have to go see physio here, chiropractor there, machinery somewhere else, gym room, whatever. Here it’s all in one and I think it’s very special. I was impressed.

“It’s extremely well organised and planned, everything is taken care of. You’re doing exercise, getting treatment, seeing a nutritionist. We are absolutely taken care of, 100%. A foundation like this, for the rehabilitation of jockeys, I guess is number one in the world. This is only from what I know.

“We have a nice apartment with kitchen, TV, fireplace. You feel like you’re at home. There’s a room to be with other jockeys here, watching racing, TV programmes, with newspapers and fruit, drinks … what else do you need? I’m very pleased to be here.”

Mossé sustained his injury in a pre-race fall from the sprinter Evergate, formerly trained by Robert Cowell but now based in Bahrain and described by the jockey as being “a gentleman” most of the time. “But he just lost his mind and become uncontrollable, I lost control and he went maximum speed through the fence.”

The jockey hopes to return to action in mid-February, so as to be race-fit in time for the Saudi Cup at the end of that month. Perhaps surprisingly, he bears Evergate no ill will. “I can’t wait to go back and ride him and win again.”

Nor has he even the smallest idea of retiring, smiling as he responds to the question with: “You wanna upset me? I’m absolutely not thinking to be retired because it’s not my job, it’s my hobby. What I do is what I like. I always wanted to be a jockey and even if I’ve not been the best, I’ve been able to do what I like and this is the most important to me.” Chris Cook


Fakenham 12.25 Robin De Broome 12.55 Massini’s Dream 1.25 Little Light (nap) 2.00 Grand Roi 2.35 Eceparti 3.10 Miss Heritage 3.45 Young Offender

Southwell 12.40 Six Til Twelve 1.15 Sweet Talked 1.45 Little India 2.20 Merryweather 2.55 Blowing Dixie 3.30 National Anthem 4.05 Grandscape

Wetherby 1.05 Dark Lochnagar 1.35 Adelphi Prince (nb) 2.10 Virnon 2.45 Jobsonfire 3.20 Storm Control 3.55 Eden Du Houx

Newcastle 4.30 Blazing Dreams 5.00 Proceeding 5.30 Arbiter 6.00 Louis Treize 6.30 St Just 7.00 Billy Wedge 7.30 Rebel Redemption 8.00 Qaaraat