Absent friends: the stars missing from the festival

Faugheen: one of a host of stars set to miss the Cheltenham Festival

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos) Absent friends: the stars missing from the festival
By Mark Scully 12:46PM 21 FEB 2017

IN BEING ruled out of the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, Thistlecrack has become the latest high-profile star set to miss out when the festival gets underway in three weeks.

While the tens of thousands of racing fans who flock to Cheltenham next month, and the countless more who enjoy it from home, will still be thrilled by the action on the track, plenty will be left to rue ante-post investments that went awry and with the feeling of what might have been.

Here were take a look at the big names who will not be strutting their stuff at Prestbury Park this time around.

Sprinter Sacre
Intended target: Champion Chase

It is only natural to want more of a good thing and after one of the greats of the modern era brought the house down in last year's Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase, plenty were hoping for an encore by way of a showdown with Douvan.

However, while in training for a shot at the Tingle Creek back in November, Sprinter Sacre sustained a leg injury that was enough to convince the connections who adored him that it was time to let him enjoy the luxury of a well-earned retirement.

Faugheen
Intended target: Champion Hurdle

For the second year in a row, the 2015 champion hurdler Faugheen misses out on the festival after being found to have suffered a stress fracture.

Willie Mullins had hoped to have his star hurdler back in time for the Irish Champion Hurdle but was forced to pull up stumps with what was originally thought to be a pulled muscle, before the more serious nature of the problem was uncovered.

The trainer remais hopeful Faugheen's season may not be over yet.

Ruby Walsh celebrating on Annie Power

Annie Power will not be defending her Champion Hurdle crown

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

Annie Power
Intended target: Champion Hurdle

As the reigning Stan James Champion Hurdle winner, Annie Power would surely have been allowed to defend her crown but was ruled out last month after suffering a leg injury during a piece of work.

Linked forever with the festival not only for her Champion Hurdle success but for her stunning final flight fall in the 2015 Mares' Hurdle that saved bookmakers a pay out in the region of £50 million, Annie Power's value as a broodmare means we may never see her on the racetrack again.

Min
Intended target: Arkle

Willie Mullins has been dealt blow after blow in the build up to the festival and Racing Post Arkle second favourite Min was another to go by the wayside.

Last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle runner-up also missed out on a start in the Irish Arkle, although as with Faugheen, Mullins is hopeful Min could make a return to action before the season concludes.

Don Cossack
Intended target: Gold Cup

One of the best winners of the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup in recent years, Don Cossack was unable to bid for a follow-up win at last spring's Punchestown Festival with a tendon injury.

Trainer Gordon Elliott gave the "horse of a lifetime" every chance at a comeback but tendon troubles continued to plague him and connections decided to call it a day in January, retiring the multiple Grade 1 winner.

Nico de Boinville and Coneygree win the Gold Cup

Coneygree: hopes had been high after Betfair Chase second

PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)

Coneygree
Intended target: Gold Cup

The 2016 winner is absent and so too is the 2015 hero, with Coneygree being ruled out only days before Don Cossack.

A creditable comeback second behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock had fuelled high hopes for the season to come but he was at first withdrawn from King George calculations after failing to impress in his homework before Gold Cup hopes were also abandoned.

Thistlecrack
Intended target: Gold Cup

With Don Cossack and Coneygree out, Thistlecrack was left as the general odds-on favourite for the final day of the festival's feature contest but he too will now be missing.

Thistlecrack drifted in the markets after losing out in a battle up the Cheltenham hill with the ill-fated Many Clouds last time out but the King George hero would still have been a popular choice come the big day, with his flambouyant jumping winning him many fans during 2016-17.

Others of note

Many Clouds is another who would have featured prominently in the Gold Cup market but for is untimely death, the same of which could also be said for Vautour, who lost his life in a freak accident at trainer Willie Mullins' yard.

Another yard left to mourn the loss of a star performer was Nicky Henderson's Seven Barrows, after Simonsig died at Cheltenham on the day the trainer announced the retirement of Sprinter Sacre.

Valseur Lido, second in last year's Ryanair Chase behind Vautour, is another who looked set to play a big part next month but after fading to fourth in the Lexus Chase in December, was ruled out with injury last month.

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