The 2010 Hennessy Gold Cup winner Joncol has been ruled out for the rest of the campaign after a scan yesterday revealed that the Paul Nolan-trained chaser has damaged a tendon on his near hind leg.
Successful on his reappearance at Thurles after a bone spur sidelined him in the wake of his third-placed effort in last year's Hennessy, Joncol went on to finish an encouraging second in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown.
However, the nine-year-old turned in a lifeless display when trailing home seventh in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown last week, a performance that Nolan feels can be attributed to yesterday's diagnosis.
"On his work at home, there was no way Joncol should have run as badly as he did at Leopardstown," the Wexford handler said. "He was the first horse beaten, so this is obviously something that happened to him early on. The scan showed a 10pc hole in his tendon, which isn't as bad as we feared it might be. At least we have a reason now, although it is a blow to lose him for the season.
"When you only have a few horses that can compete at the level he does, it is disappointing when something like this happens, especially when he seemed to be finding his form again."
Nolan also revealed that plans for Noble Prince, last year's Jewson Chase winner at Cheltenham, will be finalised shortly.
Second to Big Zeb for the second time in succession at Leopardstown, the Des Sharkey-owned gelding's primary target is the Ryanair Chase back at the Festival, a race for which he is as low as 4/1 favourite.
"Noble Prince came out of Leopardstown well," Nolan confirmed, "and I'll have a chat with the owner in the next few days to decide whether or not we go straight to Cheltenham.
"If we decide to give him a run, the Normans Grove at Fairyhouse, the Tied Cottage at Punchestown and the Game Spirit at Newbury are the options we have to choose from."
Dessie Hughes, meanwhile, has stated that Magnanimity, well beaten in the Lexus Chase on its first run since finishing fourth in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March, will be aimed at the Hennessy Gold Cup back at Leopardstown on February 12.
The Curragh trainer also suggested that Minsk, successful in the Irish Cesarewitch for John Oxx in October, could make its hurdling bow for him in a "month to five weeks' time".
"We're hoping to get two runs into him before Cheltenham," he said of the Dalakhani four-year-old, which is 12/1 joint second favourite for the Triumph Hurdle. "We've schooled him and he has taken to hurdles very well."