Major blow for Mullins as Faugheen and Min are ruled out of Cheltenham

Min in action at last year's Cheltenham Festival
Min in action at last year's Cheltenham Festival

Willie Mullins suffered a major blow on Monday as both Faugheen and Min were ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival.

Faugheen won the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the 2015 Festival, but an injury sustained after winning the 2016 Irish Champion Hurdle ruled him out of defending his Cheltenham crown.

The nine-year-old has suffered a couple of minor problems this term, meaning his intended comeback was delayed until the Irish Champion Hurdle last month.

However, another issue saw him pulled out of the race 24 hours before the event and while Mullins initially thought Faugheen had a muscle problem, the setback has proved more serious.

"We had hoped Faugheen had just tweaked a muscle, but we've had it checked out and it's a stress fracture," said Mullins.

Min also missed an intended outing in the Irish Arkle at the end of last month and Mullins has confirmed the Grade One winner will also be an absentee in the Cotswolds next month.

He added: "Min has a bruise. Hopefully both will still make the track this season."

Mullins continued: "It's a real shame with Faugheen, we needed everything to go right and obviously it hasn't.

"There are options at Fairyhouse and Punchestown for Min, hopefully he makes one of them, while we'll try to get Faugheen ready for Punchestown."

Top Notch on course for JLT date at Cheltenham

Top Notch will attempt to register back-to-back Grade One victories in next month's JLT Novices' Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Although the six-year-old still holds entries in both the Champion Hurdle and the Arkle, connections have confirmed that the two-and-a-half-mile contest on March 16 will be his next target.

The Nicky Henderson-trained gelding made it four successive victories over fences at Sandown on Saturday when striking at the top level for the first time in his career in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase.

Anthony Bromley, racing manager to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, said: "We were pleased with it all on Saturday.

"You dream that they are going to win a Grade One, but until you see it, you don't know if it is going to happen. He is a great jumper and a brave horse. We all love him to bits.

"He has got various entries, but it is fairly obvious he will go for the JLT Novices' Chase as long as all is well.

"He won't go for the Champion Hurdle and I see no reason why we would come back to two for the Arkle. He had all the options there for different scenarios."
Sandown runner-up Rather Be in Martin Pipe frame at Cheltenham Festival

Rather Be has the option of running in either the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival or the EBF Final at Sandown.

Nicky Henderson's six-year-old was just touched off by Triumph Hurdle possible Coeur De Lion at Sandown on Saturday.

Rather Be was ridden by Ned Curtis, who would be in line to keep the mount should he run at Cheltenham.

"It was a very solid effort, we thought, giving 9lb to the winner, " said owner Matt Morgan.

"The first two pulled a long way clear of the third, who was quietly fancied.

"The winner hasn't been disgraced by two nice horses, Defi Du Seuil and Don Bersy and we didn't think our lad would like the ground.

"He went through it but ideally wouldn't want it that soft. His half-brother (Sign Of A Victory) can barely walk in soft ground.

"Now he's qualified for the EBF Final that has to be an option, but the ground is likely to be soft again so the other option is the Martin Pipe.

"The handicapper can't put him up too much but hopefully it will be enough to guarantee a run.

"Ned would be top of the pile to ride him in that if that's where we end up.

"This year's just a bonus as he's built like a chaser."

Footpad to swerve Betfair Hurdle at Newbury

Dual Grade One winner Footpad will not be coming over to England on Saturday to contest the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.

Connections have confirmed that the Willie Mullins-trained six-year-old will not be taking up his entry in the Grade Three handicap, for which he was as short as 10-1.

Anthony Bromley, racing manager for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, said: "He is entered in the Stayers' Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle and it is not set in stone which race he will go for yet."

Footpad was denied a third win at the top level at last month when finding only Petit Mouchoir too strong in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Surprisingly only 20 horses remain in the mix for one of the most valuable handicaps of the season.

In Footpad's absence, Mullins could still run Renneti, who would have top weight.

His great rival Gordon Elliott has left in Veinard but not the strongly-fancied Sutton Place, while the only other Irish-trained possible is Noel Meade's De Name Escapes Me.

Paul Nicholls has left in Zubayr and Movewiththetimes, with Nicky Henderson confirming Hargam and Consul De Thaix.

Last year's Champion Bumper winner Ballyandy could be joined by his Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained stablemate Ballyhill.

Clyne, Wait For Me, William H Bonney, Beltor and Song Light are others engaged.

Lucy Wadham has Cheltenham Festival in mind for Potters Legend

Lucy Wadham is plotting a trip to the Cheltenham Festival with Potters Legend.

The Newmarket handler has earmarked the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Chase on March 16 as one of two potential Festival options for the seven-year-old.

The Grade One-placed hurdler finished second on his most recent visit to Cheltenham when he chased home Royal Vacation in a two-mile-five-furlong handicap chase late last month.

Wadham said: "I was thrilled with that run. He stayed on well and his jumping was superb. He only missed one fence.

"I was impressed with the way he stayed on and how he handled the hustle and bustle as he had horses fall in front of him twice. I don't know how Leighton (Aspell) managed to keep on.

"It depends what the handicapper does. If he leaves him alone he could run in the two-and-a-half-mile novice chase or he might go for the Kim Muir.

"He will go straight to Cheltenham now. You would have to think that there is a good one in him."

Wadham also issued an upbeat report on Le Reve, who is currently recovering from a stress fracture in his neck following a multiple-horse incident at Cheltenham in November.

She added: "Le Reve has just started cantering. He looks really well and we are really pleased with him.

"I still hope to have him back in time for the bet365 Chase at Sandown in April."

Paul Nicholls says Clan Des Obeaux 'is likely to miss Cheltenham'

Paul Nicholls has declared Clan Des Obeaux an unlikely runner at the Cheltenham Festival after his disappointing display at Newbury on Saturday.

Sent off favourite for the Grade One Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, the five-year-old, part-owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, trained in last of the five runners behind Top Notch.

Stablemate Le Prezien fared better in third, but his Festival target has still to be decided.

"Neither Le Prezien nor Clan Des Obeaux jumped well enough in the Scilly Isles Chase," the champion trainer told

"I'll make a plan for Le Prezien, while Clan Des Obeaux is likely to miss Cheltenham and have a confidence-booster at a flat track on better ground in six weeks before we raise his sights again at maybe Aintree or Ayr."

Charlie Longsdon warming to Winter with Royal runner Forth Bridge

Charlie Longsdon believes the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Hurdle is the most "sensible option" for Forth Bridge at next month's Cheltenham Festival - as long as he is not handicapped out of the equation.

The four-year-old, who is owned by the Queen, made it two victories from as many visits to Musselburgh on Saturday after winning a Listed hurdle at the track.

Although Forth Bridge is as short as 20-1 for the JCB Triumph Hurdle, the Chipping Norton handler feels the Grade Three Fred Winter on March 15 is a more realistic aim.

Longsdon said: "He was good at Musselburgh, simple as that.

"He is the only one we have that is owned by the Queen but he is a very good horse. It is a massive privilege and I'm very honoured to have him here.

"We've always liked him a lot and he seems to have plenty of ability.

"That (Musselburgh) would have not been the right sort of track for him. Musselburgh would have been way too sharp for him as he is a big, strapping horse that wants a galloping track. He battled hard, though, and kept finding more.

"He did beat two horses rated in the 140s and if the handicapper acts on those lines, then he is likely to be too high for the Fred Winter.

"I thought that the two top that were rated in the 140s were very inflated before the race and if he (the handicapper) takes it more that they are 135-rated horses then we can start to think about the Fred Winter.

"That is the more logical choice and more sensible option if we are given the right sort of mark."

Gary Moore sets sights on Plate date with Baron Alco

Gary Moore hopes the handicapper reacts accordingly to allow Baron Alco to take his chance in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate.

The Lower Beeding handler has earmarked the Grade Three contest at the Cheltenham Festival, which he won in 2004 with Tikram, as the next stopping point for the six-year-old.

After registering a second win over fences at Plumpton on his penultimate start, the John Stone-owned gelding put up a bold show from the front to finish second in a Grade One at Sandown on Saturday.

Moore said: "I was very pleased with Baron Alco on Saturday. I felt he ran as well as he can do and was beaten by a better horse.

"Maybe some of the others underperformed, I just hope the handicapper doesn't take it too seriously as he knows his ability.

"He will go straight to Cheltenham. He wasn't entered in the Arkle as he needs two and a half miles plus. He is on 143 and I hope he doesn't go up to much more than 145.

"There is a two-mile-five handicap we won several years ago with Tikram that I would like him to go for. We might look at the JLT but we will see how he comes out of it."