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Setback leaves Spirit Son a big doubt for Cheltenham

The participation of the highly-regarded Spirit Son in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham is in serious doubt after Nicky Henderson's six-year-old suffered another setback.

The classy hurdler -- which was expected to be Barry Geraghty's mount in the two-mile showpiece -- has not been seen since winning a Grade 2 at Aintree last April, and is unlikely to return for the foreseeable future. According to Henderson, the gelding could even miss the rest of the season.

"The picture is grey. If you are going to miss two weeks at this point of the game, you are really out of the ball park," the trainer explained. "We had a hiccup with him earlier on (in the season) which cost me three weeks, but this was a new problem. I'd rather start next season with a horse in one piece piece than risk him and lose him for this season and next."

One horse definitely on course for Cheltenham is the Willie Mullins-trained Mikael D'Haguenet which completed a hat-trick of wins when cantering to success in Saturday's Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas. The eight-year-old, partnered to victory again by Paul Townend, was cut to 10/1 for the Ladbrokes World Hurdle by the sponsors and to a general 33/1 for the Champion Hurdle.

The former Cheltenham Festival hero, one of five winners for owner Rich Ricci over the weekend, endured an unsuccessful novice chasing campaign last season, but has regained his confidence over the smaller flights.

Speaking at Fairyhouse yesterday, Ricci said: "He brings a smile to my face every time. He looked really sharp and jumped really quickly. You could see Paul having to take a good hold of him. He was almost cocky, swaggering again yesterday. The question is what to do with him. He'll go to Cheltenham for the World Hurdle or the Champion Hurdle, so he'll take on Big Buck's or Hurricane Fly. We'll figure it out."

Pittoni is unlikely to be heading to Cheltenham, according to trainer Charles Byrnes, but the horse is set to return to competitive action in the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran Park on February 18.

The six-year-old trailed home last in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham on his latest appearance and Byrnes is looking forward to getting him back on track. "We gave him a break after Cheltenham and will start him back in the Red Mills. Hopefully, he could be one of the highest rated in that race," said Byrnes.

Meanwhile, Meath native Jason Maguire enjoyed a red-letter day when the jockey combined with trainer Donald McCain to land a 35/1 four-timer at Haydock on Saturday.

Cinders And Ashes, Our Mick, Reindeer Dippin and Real Milan were the four winners, with the first-named earning his ticket to Cheltenham in good style.

Irish Independent