Last Instalment out for the season
Last Instalment, one of the leading Irish hopes for next month's Cheltenham Festival, was ruled out for the rest of the season yesterday after sustaining an injury during his deeply impressive triumph in the PJ Moriarty Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.
One of the brightest Gold Cup prospects in the country, the Gigginstown Stud-owned seven-year-old had been a top-priced 8/1 for the RSA Chase at the Prestbury Park gala.
The Anshan gelding's misfortune comes as a devastating blow to his trainer Philip Fenton, whose previous Festival winner Dunguib is also currently sidelined.
"He has jarred both tendons, I'm afraid, so is on the easy list," Fenton reported of Last Instalment. "He won't run again before the end of the season, but will hopefully be back next year."
Fenton's revelation came just hours after Quito De La Roque was the highest-profile absentee at the latest forfeit stage for next month's Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup.
The Colm Murphy-trained eight-year-old, which also missed the 2011 Festival as a result of unfavourably dry ground, suffered his first defeat in a year when third to Synchronised in the Lexus Chase after Christmas.
He was a prime contender for last weekend's Hennessy Gold Cup until Murphy ruled him out due to a bad scope four days before the race, and the Co Wexford-based handler has now been forced to put his campaign on hold until the spring.
"Quito De La Roque has quite a bad sinus problem and is on antibiotics to clear it up," Murphy explained. "It has meant we have had to stop with him and he won't be going to Cheltenham. He will hopefully be able to go to Aintree or Punchestown."
Last year's Gold Cup hero Long Run, due to complete his Festival preparations at Newbury tomorrow, heads 26 that have been left in the March 16 showpiece, with his nemesis and two-time winner Kauto Star also standing his ground.
At 16/1, Quel Esprit, a game winner of Sunday's Hennessy, is the shortest priced of Willie Mullins' trio in the three-and-a-quarter-mile Grade One, Apt Approach and The Midnight Club being the other two.
China Rock and Magnanimity, fifth and seventh respectively at Leopardstown, are the only other Irish contenders. There were no surprise defections from the four other championship events.
Hurricane Fly, a stunning winner of the Stan James Champion Hurdle in 2011 and a best-priced 5/6 to retain his crown after producing a devastating performance to record a second successive triumph in the Irish version on his reappearance last month, is one of six that Mullins has left in the two-mile feature.
Jessica Harrington's Oscars Well, second at Leopardstown, Sabrina Harty's Kalann and Edward O'Grady's Staying Article are also among the 20 remaining entries for the opening-day centrepiece.
Sizing Europe, the 5/4 market leader to defend his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, is one of 14 horses engaged in this year's renewal of the sportingbet.com promotion.
Murphy's 2010 scorer Big Zeb, runner-up behind Henry de Bromhead's dual Festival winner last year, has likewise been left in, along with Blazing Tempo and Realth Dubh.
Both of the last-named duo are also among 29 in the Ryanair Chase, a two-mile-five-furlong Grade One that Paul Nolan's Noble Prince (6/1) just shades favouritism for over Robbie Hennessy's Rubi Light (15/2), which is due to tackle Saturday's Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park.
Noble Prince, denied by Blazing Tempo in soft ground at Fairyhouse last month, will be bidding to follow up his Jewson Chase success at last year's Festival. "He's an intended runner and I'm very pleased with him since his last outing," Nolan said yesterday.
"He is always vulnerable on ground as soft as it was at Fairyhouse and that's why we have stuck to the minimum trip with him on that ground. He has also had a slight wind operation since then, which should help."
Jonjo O'Neill's Albertas Run will try for a third successive Ryanair victory after the locally-based handler elected to scratch the 11-year-old from the Gold Cup.
In the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, three-time winner Big Buck's heads a list of 23, with Quevega, Thousand Stars and Voler La Vedette among nine Irish hopefuls.
Conor O'Dwyer, meanwhile, has stated that Folsom Blue, a three-time winner in testing going this term, could fulfil his engagement in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle if he feels conditions are suitable.
Graham Lee, however, will not be on duty at the Festival after he suffered an anterior dislocation of his right hip in a fall from Rich Lord at Southwell yesterday.
The 36-year-old Galway-born Grand National-winning rider could be facing up to six months on the sidelines.