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Sunday 17 December 2017

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Shock ruling puts 5/1 favourite out of Foxhunter Chase

ANTE-POST favourite for the Foxhunter Chase at next month's Cheltenham Festival, Backstage, was yesterday confirmed a non-runner in the race as he was found to be ineligible.

The Gordon Elliott-trained 10-year-old has been an unbeaten six-time winner in Irish point-to-points this season and was as short as 5/1 to win the big amateur race on the concluding day of the Cheltenham Festival.

However, a ruling, which is strangely not stated in the conditions of the race, deems horses who have won a race with a value of more than £20,000 (¤23,500) since July 2009 to be not qualified.

This means that Backstage is not allowed to run in the Foxhunters as he won a Ffos Las Handicap Chase in August 2009 worth £31,000 (€36,000) to the winner.

A disappointed yet upbeat Elliott admitted: "The horse has been in superb form and we were really looking forward to running him. It has been his target for the season and it's certainly very disappointing for us and for the owners."

Threshold

He added: "The prize money he earned in 2009 exceeds the threshold of what is allowed for entry to the race by just £11,000. If the race he won at Ffos Las in 2009 had been six weeks earlier he would qualify. That's how it goes."

Backstage did appear among the entries for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase at the Festival and also the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir, which were revealed yesterday.

Trainer Nicky Henderson also ruled out a major Cheltenham Festival candidate yesterday when confirming that his Champion Hurdle hope Grandouet would not be ready for the opening day feature.

The five-year-old was due to run last Saturday but banged a hind leg two nights beforehand and had to undergo surgery on Tuesday. And despite recovering well, the Champion Hurdle is going to come too soon for the Grade One winner. Henderson said: "The horse has made further progress, but we feel it is unrealistic to expect him to be able to work this weekend.

"This would undoubtedly be a very interrupted preparation, so we have decided that in everybody's interest it is better to decide now that he will not run in the Champion Hurdle."

Grandouet's absence is now a big blow to Henderson who only last month had three horses being primed for the Champion Hurdle. Having already ruled out Spirit Son, Henderson is now reliant on 2010 winner Binocular who impressed last weekend.

Drifter

Philip Hobbs may also be on the verge of losing one of his leading Festival chances as Fingal Bay was a big drifter in the market yesterday.

The unbeaten six-year-old has racked up an impressive sequence of five on the bounce, including a win at Cheltenham back in November and a win over Simonsig before Christmas.

However, he was well into double figures on Betfair last night for the Neptune Investments Novices Hurdle, which he was previously a prominent figure in, after it was reported that the horse has injured a near-hind hamstring, with Hobbs set to "monitor the situation".

There was a more positive bulletin regarding three-time Cheltenham Festival winner Quevega who has once again been given a lengthy break by Willie Mullins.

The eight-year-old mare, who will go in search of a fourth win in the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle, has made her seasonal debut at the Festival for the last two years and had just one run the previous year.

Terrific

Mullins said yesterday: "She's in great form. She was in terrific form, ready to run, about three weeks ago then just went out of sorts a little bit so I gave her 10 days easy.

"Now she's back good and strong again."

Mullins admitted: "I wasn't going to run her -- I had her ready so I had nothing to do coming up to Cheltenham other than keep her ticking over. I like to get them ready, then if something happens you can give them a bit of a break before building up totally for the Festival."

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