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Faugheen heading straight to Cheltenham after latest injury

Faugheen: out of action for 12 months and misses Irish Champion Hurdle
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There will be no warm-up race for Faugheen in his attempt to win back the Stan James Champion Hurdle with trainer Willie Mullins set on sending his long-absent star straight to the Cheltenham Festival after a setback ruled him out of Sunday’s BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle.

Faugheen was eased to 5-2 (from 11-8) for the Champion Hurdle by the race sponsors after Mullins was forced to abandon his plan to bring the nine-year-old back to the course on Sunday for the first time since he won the Irish Champion last year.

The setback comes hot on the heels of Mullins having to rule out the reigning Champion Hurdle title-holder Annie Power after she suffered a knee ligament injury on Wednesday.

He said: "It's very frustrating that Faugheen won't be running at Leopardstown. We were all set to run him after he worked well during the week.

"He was fine after his work and we were all set for Leopardstown. But we found him to be wrong behind this morning. It has nothing to do with the setback that has kept him off the track this season – that was a foot problem. We're not sure what the problem is but it looks as if it could be a muscle issue high up in his hindquarters.

"Hopefully it'll clear up in a few days and if it does then he'll go straight to Cheltenham. There really isn't a suitable race for him between now and then."

Expanding on his plans to go straight to the festival, Mullins added: “After being off for such a long time I don’t want to squeeze a race in before Cheltenham as there’s the chance he could bounce there. We’ll get him ready and go straight there instead.”

With Annie Power out and Faugheen absent, Vroum Vroum Mag emerged as a possible supersub for the Champion Hurdle with a narrow success at Doncaster on Saturday, although her Cheltenham target remains up in the air.

Joe Chambers, racing manager to Rich Ricci, owner of all three horses, said: “We still have options for Cheltenham, though it feels like we’re running out of horses. Just to be clear, no conversations have been had about plans.

“She’s got all her entries in the Champion Hurdle up to the Gold Cup and she'd probably need to win to recoup the entry fees. We could also go to Punchestown and we might even think about Ayr."

Faugheen was eased to 2-1 (from 13-8) for the Stan James Champion Hurdle by Ladbrokes, whose spokesman David Williams said: "Punters are feeling jittery. This latest setback has left the market in a state of mild disarray. The next few weeks are going to be especially nervy for punters who may be sitting on ante-post tickets for the big race on the opening day." The firm trimmed Yanworth to 3-1 (from 4).

Bet365, who are offering non-runner no bet, eased Faugheen to 5-4 (from 4-5). Spokesman Pat Cooney said: "We've been non-runner no bet on the Champion Hurdle for a couple of weeks now. We took next to nothing on the Champion Hurdle prior to that and even less afterwards.

"We've had enquiries for the likes of Yorkhill and even Min but in all honesty we've barely taken a bet on the event, so we've eased Faugheen if it's only a pulled muscle. He's still one to be respectful of. It's just a non-betting event and I imagine that will continue until the final declarations."

It has nothing to do with the setback that has kept him off the track this season – that was a foot problem. It looks as if it could be a muscle issue high up in his hindquarters

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