Blow for Willie Mullins as champion Faugheen ruled out of Cheltenham Festival
Faugheen will miss the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham next month, and the rest of the season, after being found suffering from a suspensory ligament problem this morning.
The hot favourite to defend his title will not be risked again in this campaign, with trainer Willie Mullins saying “it is a similar injury to that which Hurricane Fly suffered the first year we were heading to the Champion Hurdle with him and ‘the Fly’ came back to win two of the three following Champion Hurdles.”
Jockey Ruby Walsh said, “it’s like having the ace in your hand of cards whipped away just before Cheltenham.”
Mullins and Walsh may well still win the showpiece race of the first day of Cheltenham, with Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon now very prominent in the betting – and they also have the option of entering Annie Power at the four-day stage, with that mare making a winning return to action at Punchestown today.
“It’s a bit too soon to consider that,” added Walsh, “but it is an option.” So much so that some bookies have introduced Annie Power at 2/1 for the Champion Hurdle on March 15.
However Faugheen’s absence means many punters, who staked on the possible Rich Ricci-Willie Mullins-Ruby Walsh four-timer on the opening day at Cheltenham, of Min, Douvan, Faugheen and Annie Power, have now done their money. And won’t be collecting the winnings that had backed at all priced down from 16/1 to 6/1 earlier today.
Mullins revealed the injury came to light after he returned to work having enjoyed a short break following his Leopardstown triumph.
Mullins said: "We were just bringing him back. We had 28 days from yesterday to the Champion Hurdle and I said 'I better start doing a bit with him' and getting serious.
"He was just a little bit sore and our vet confirmed he had a small suspensory (injury) and I didn't want to risk going any further. I just took a view that it was better to stop now and he'd be back for next year.