Faugheen: ruled out of Cheltenham Festival on Monday
PICTURE: Patrick McCann (racingpost.com/photos
By Peter Scargill 3:36PM 6 FEB 2017
Willie Mullins’s roller-coaster campaign has suffered another hair-raising plunge following the confirmation that both Faugheen and Min will be forced to sit out next month’s Cheltenham Festival through injury.
Both horses had missed high-profile engagements at Leopardstown last Sunday week, but Mullins had hoped that they would return sufficiently quickly to fulfil their Festival targets.
Despite not having run since his 15-length demolition of last year’s BHP Irish Champion Hurdle field, Faugheen was as low as 6-4 to regain the Cheltenham crown that his similarly luckless stable-mate Annie Power won in his absence.
However, less than two weeks after the Rich Ricci-owned reigning title-holder was ruled out of a return bid, Mullins and his leading owner have suffered another double whammy.
Following the fatal injury to Ricci’s Vautour and the loss of 60 Gigginstown Stud horses, it is a cruel blow for the champion trainer, whose own domestic title is also under threat from the pace-setting Gordon Elliott.
In the wake of Faugheen’s removal from the Stan James Champion Hurdle betting, Yorkhill, yet another stable-mate but one who would have to be supplemented, is vying for favouritism at odds of 7-2 for the two-mile Grade 1.
Yorkhill has been campaigned over fences this term, but Mullins would not be drawn on whether he would consider following the lead of connections of Buveur D’Air by switching last year’s impressive Neptune Novices’ Hurdle winner back for a tilt at what is an increasingly open-looking Champion Hurdle.
Pair could return at Punchestown
“It was confirmed this morning that Faugheen has suffered a stress fracture to his right hand ilium bone,” Mullins told the Racing Post on Monday. “He is definitely out of Cheltenham but I’m hoping he will be okay to return for Punchestown.”
The ilium bone runs along a horse’s rump, prompting the initial diagnosis of a muscle strain in the hind quarters that led to Faugheen’s absence from the Irish Champion Hurdle nine days ago.
Also a late absentee from the Arkle Novice Chase on the same Leopardstown spread was Min, a Grade 1 winner on his second start over fences in the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown on St Stephen’s Day.
Last year’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle runner-up was second favourite behind his 2016 conqueror Altior for the Cheltenham equivalent, but the Fairyhouse Easter Festival in mid-April will be as soon as he returns to action.
Mullins explained: “Follow further investigation, Min has been found to have a bone bruise to a cannon bone and he is definitely out of the Arkle. He needs some time off and I hope to have him back for Fairyhouse and/or Punchestown.”