THE Cheltenham Festival may be the focus of racing this week but one man might spend much of his time looking the other way.

Rich Ricci is one of jump racing’s most prominent owners but often can barely bring himself to watch the action live.

“I’m getting better,” the American said with a grin. “I peek at the races now and again but it’s just the nerves. I watch them when I get home and I love the feel and the buzz of the racecourse.

“My father and grandfather liked racing and we would go with him. I started to get into National Hunt racing because they always had a National Hunt race as the first of the day at Saratoga. I was fascinated by the spectacle and then I came to this country, went to Sandown with some friends, and couldn’t believe the size of the fences. A bit different to Saratoga and I got the bug then.”

The bug has turned into a full blown fever which reaches its peak now when his green and pink colours – which can make the jockey look like a slimline Mr Blobby – will be worn primarily by Ruby Walsh.

The colours were chosen by Ricci’s wife, Susannah, in whose name the horses run.

“I wanted my wife to feel part of it and be involved,” Ricci said. “My wife liked the colours and I remember I asked Ruby ‘how do you like the colours?’ early on and he said ‘hmm, they’re growing on me’. But by that time we’d won a few.”

Ricci has more than 50 horses either in training with Willie Mullins or as part of next season’s plan. However, the man who made his fortune in banking knows the plan now is simply not to lose too much money in pursuit of the glittering prizes.

“It doesn’t break even,” he admitted. “This is a hobby and you have you think of it as that. This is going to be a net cash flow drain and once we buy the horse you write that amount off. We just hope to generate enough prize money to pay for their training. If you can do that, happy days.”

The first of his happy days at the Cheltenham Festival came when Mikael d'Haguenet won there in 2009.

“What a feeling,” Ricci said. “Walking into that winner’s enclosure was just something I’ll never forget. That’s a wonderful feeling that just keeps you coming back.”

There have been 13 more such memories through the likes of Vatour, Annie Power, Faugheen and Douvan.

Ricci could have more than 20 runners at this year’s meeting and many, like Getabird in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle, will be well backed. That may be a worry for bookmakers like BetBright, of which Ricci is executive chairman, but he will be more focused on the Prestbury Cup, which his company sponsors. This is the trophy for the annual challenge between Great Britain and Ireland for Festival winners and Ricci is not short of ammunition to bolster the Irish.

“You’ve got to get them separate,” he said of the business versus owner aspect. “BetBright is a business and I do not discuss my horses with my traders and they make their own prices based on their own judgment. And that’s the way it should be.”

There was a time when 6-1 about Faugheen for the Unibet Champion Hurdle or 5-1 for Douvan to win the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase would have been every punter’s dream.

Instead Ricci and Mullins have endured a nightmare season with both horses. Faugheen, who missed the last two renewals of the Champion Hurdle that he had won so impressively in 2015, looked to have lost a step when beaten at Leopardstown last month while Douvan has yet to step on the track this season.

No horse has reclaimed the Champion Hurdle after a three-year gap and Ricci is perhaps little more than hopeful.

"I think he’s good,” he said. Is he the same? I don’t know.

“If he can’t beat My Tent or Yours then we’ll certainly retire him. I expect Buveur d'Air to win but, if Faugheen was to replicate his Morgiana Hurdle in November, he could win based on everyone’s form this year. He’s 10 years old, time’s against him, but his work has been very good.

He’s been a bit light in his races and he hasn’t had the same spark. So the fear in the yard has been that he’s a bit bored. He was off for two years and sometimes you lose the will to carry on, I suppose, and he we haven’t been able to reignite that spark.

“We’ve been trying over the last few weeks to get that spark back. He’s showing signs of it – he’s stronger and fitter – and if we could get him back to where he was in November he’d be bang there.

“I don’t think we want to run Douvan unless he’s going to do himself justice – meaning that he has a chance to win. Min [Ricci’s other runner in the race] has done nothing wrong this season but I think Altior will be hard to beat.

“Douvan, on his very best day, I’m not saying he’d beat him – he’d give him a great race. And that’s what we want to see.”

A win for either would be a welcome sight for Ricci.