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Vautour team devastated at loss of triple Cheltenham hero

Second festival win: Vautour trounced his rivals, who included Valseur Lido and Ptit Zig, in the JLT Chase in 2015
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Willie Mullins and his staff were left devastated yesterday by the death of Vautour, the three-time Cheltenham Festival winner and one of the most exciting chasers in training.

An accident claimed the life of the Rich Ricci-owned seven-year-old, who was second favourite for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Thistlecrack.

Mullins said: "It's absolutely terrible. Vautour was out in a paddock with another of our horses, Shaneshill – the two of them go out to the same paddock most days.

"We don't know what exactly happened – it must have been a freak accident - but when one of the girls went out to feed the horses Vautour was found with a broken front leg and our vet had no option but to put him down.

“It's tough to take for all of us."

Vautour had built up a big fan club, with jockey Ruby Walsh among those in awe of his talents, saying last season: "I love him. He has so much natural ability and is so straightforward. He's a horse we've always thought a hell of a lot of."

Vautour won ten of his 16 races, for almost £600,000 in prize-money, and was a three-time Grade 1 winner over hurdles, while had scored twice at the top level as a chaser with his best days ahead of him.

The first of his three Cheltenham Festival victories came in 2014, when he landed the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle by six lengths. Twelve months later he was an awesome 15-length winner of the JLT Novices’ Chase, while last March he ran out a six-length winner of the Ryanair Chase.

That victory was not without its controversy as Vautour had been expected to contest the Gold Cup, only for connections to change tack at the last minute, believing he was not working well enough to justify competing for the biggest prize of all.

Vautour actually achieved his highest Racing Post Rating, of 180, in defeat, when beaten a head by Cue Card in last year’s King George VI Chase at Kempton, a race he was in line to contest next month, with Ricci saying he had “unfinished business”.

The markets for the 32Red King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup were inevitably affected by the Vautour news, with favourite Thistlecrack hardening to a general 4-1 (from 9-2) for the festival showpiece, while Cue Card and Ricci’s Douvan are now vying for Kempton favouritism at around 5-1 (from 6).

Mullins’ fortunes are in stark contrast to last season, the trainer having split with powerful owner Gigginstown House Stud in September, while yesterday he also lost Hennessy Gold Cup market leader Avant Tout at Naas.

The six-year-old had to be put down after suffering an injury to his off-fore tendon when landing awkwardly over the first fence in the Grade 3 Poplar Square Chase.

We don't know what exactly happened - it must have been a freak accident - but when one of the girls went out to feed the horses Vautour was found with a broken front leg and our vet had no option but to put him down

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