Mikael blow for Festival
'Stiff and sore' D'Haguenet won't make Cheltenham
While we were only starting to get our hopes built up having seen him twice in a matter of days schooling on a racecourse, there will be no Mikael D'Haguenet at the Cheltenham Festival this year after Willie Mullins yesterday admitted defeat with his classy French import.
Unbeaten since joining Mullins, he triumphed at both Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals last season in the novice hurdle ranks and immediately became a horse for everyone to follow as he went about a novice chase campaign this season.
However, niggly problems, and persisting ones at that, have forced Mullins to raise the white flag as regards a return to the Cotswolds after the horse was "stiff and sore" following his exertion at Leopardstown where Ruby Walsh schooled him over fences after racing on Sunday.
"Mikael D'Haguenet is out of Cheltenham," Mullins said. "He was stiff and sore after the piece of work on Sunday, which means we couldn't do any fast work with him today and we've run out of time for the Cheltenham Festival."
It is a blow to all racing fans who would have loved to see the six-year-old take on the Nicky Henderson's duo, Punchestowns and Long Run, in the RSA Chase in just less than a fortnight. And now Mullins will mull over his options before deciding if he will make either Fairyhouse or Punchestown this season or be let off for the remainder of this season.
While the news will come as a huge blow and disappointment to his owner Rich Ricci, the banker will undoubtedly accept the decision of the trainer gracefully as he made no secret of his plans for the horse when speaking at Leopardstown on Sunday.
"We won't jeopardise the horse. He is such a Gold Cup horse in the making that we won't be chasing an Arkle or RSA and miss two Gold Cups because of it -- we won't ruin him -- I promise you that," he said.
Meanwhile, James Lambe has secured the extremely valuable services of Robert Thornton to ride his Drumbaloo in the Champion Bumper on the second day of the Festival.
Unbeaten in three bumpers, the six-year-old was to be the mount of amateur Robbie McNamara, who has partnered him in his work and in two of his wins in Ireland. But the 21-year-old is set to ride one of Dermot Weld's leading bumper hopeful's meaning "Choc" Thornton has come in for the exciting spare.
"He won his point-to-point well and we then sent him over to Hereford for a bumper where he won in a common canter," Lambe revealed. "Tony McCoy rode him that day and said he felt like a very good horse and could be competitive wherever we decided to send him.
"We brought him back to Ireland and he beat a very smart horse in Western Leader at Down Royal before winning a Grade Two at Navan so his form his rock solid.
"Robbie McNamara rode him on his last two starts but unfortunately it looks like he'll be riding for Dermot Weld so we've booked Choc Thornton to ride -- there is nobody better than him around Cheltenham and I'm delighted to have got him."
Lambe added: "He'll definitely be a better horse on better ground and I think he has as good chance. If he was trained by Willie Mullins he'd probably be favourite so we're looking forward to it."
Elsewhere, Tracey Collins is looking forward to her first ever runner at the meeting as Loch Long is set to take his chance in either the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle or the Grade One Triumph Hurdle.
The daughter of legendary former trainer Con Collins, Tracey is predominantly flat based, but has a couple of jumpers including Loch Long to keep her ticking over in the winter.
Collins said: "He's entered in the two races and definitely goes, but we haven't made a decision on which race. The last run was much better (behind Alaivan) and far more like the ability he has showed at home."