Kapga De Cerisy was cut to 14-1 (from 25) for the Byrne Group PlatePICTURE: Mark Cranham (racingpost.com/photos)
Festival fancy Fago flops in three-horse race
Report: Sandown, Friday
Kilbrittain Castle Novices' Chase (Class 2) 5yo+, 2m
FAGO suffered a shock defeat at Sandown on Friday in a race which ended Cheltenham Festival ambitions for the horse, although rider Ruby Walsh urged punters not to give up on on the five-year-old.
The Paul Nicholls-trained chaser, who was a 10-1 shot for the Racing Post Arkle and Jewson before racing, was 2-5 favourite to see off his two rivals, Gallox Bridge and Kapga De Cerisy.
He had made a winning debut for Nicholls after joining from France just before the end of 2012 but fell on his next outing, in the Kingmaker at Warwick earlier this month, and this relatively uncompetitive race was expected to act as a springboard for a festival challenge.
There were early warning signs, however, as Ruby Walsh was treated to a hair-raising ride onboard Fago, who was untidy over many of his fences.
With Tony McCoy setting a punishing pace on Kapga De Cerisy those mistakes began to take a heavy toll on Fago's chances. He briefly closed on the leader but in the final stages appeared to bottom out his stamina as Kapga De Cerisy pulled clear again.
Shortly after the race Nicholls tweeted: "Fago will miss Cheltenham and we will try and get back to best for Aintree."
Ruby Walsh added: "He was fluent enough over the early fences but then he got rusty.
"You have to remember that he was coming here after having a busy season in France and that was the way he rode - like a horse who had already had a busy season and not one who was peaking towards a major target. I wouldn't give up on him."
Kapga De Cerisy, a 7-2 shot, survived a last fence howler to record a 15-length win over Fago, who only held off Gallox Bridge for third by just over a length.
The winner has festival entries in the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase, the Byrne Group Plate and the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual. He was cut to 14-1 (from 25) for the Byrne Group Plate by Paddy Power.
Trainer Venetia Williams said: "He'll go to Cheltenham now, where his only options are the various handicaps. I've put him in everything, and I'm hoping the proximity of the third will stop the handicapper from over-reacting. The ground was a worry, but it's not any more."