Racing: Jinx forces Maguire out of Festival again

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The Independent Online

Adrian Maguire will watch Cheltenham from a hospital bed after an injury jinx struck again on Saturday. The jockey has missed four of the last seven Festivals.

The Irishman underwent surgery at Walsgrave Hospital in Coventry yesterday. "He's broken a bone in his neck," Ferdy Murphy, the trainer who saddles most of his mounts, said yesterday. "I've heard they'll be taking a piece of bone from his hip for a bone-graft operation on his neck."

Maguire's highest-profile ride at the three-day Festival, which starts tomorrow, was to have been on Florida Pearl in Thursday's Gold Cup.

Willie Mullins, who trains Florida Pearl, is now searching for a late replacement on his King George VI Chase winner. "There will be no decision until later in the week. I'm going to sit with this one," Mullins said yesterday.

Saturday's injury came at Warwick when Maguire fell from the Murphy-trained Luzcadou in the Warwick National Crudwell Cup. He was taken by ambulance to Warwick General Hospital where, after a scan, the Irishman was told he would be in a halo brace for two months.

The jockey, who will be 31 next month, sat out the 1995 Cheltenham Festival after his mother died. Injury then forced him to miss the 1996 Festival with a broken a collar-bone. A broken arm saw him on the sidelines in 1997.

Ruby Walsh, one of the leading Irish-based riders, sympathised with Maguire's plight, saying: "You've been trying to avoid injury and suspension for the last couple of weeks. But to get so close and not ride there – it's every jockey's nightmare."

Walsh is a possible substitute on Florida Pearl if heavy rain were to turn the going soft, diminishing the chance of Walsh's current mount, Commanche Court. But Conor O'Dwyer, one of Ireland's top jumps riders, is a more likely replacement.

John Patrick "JP" McNamara is expected to take over on many of Maguire's Festival runners, including the well- regarded Truckers Tavern in tomorrow's Irish Independent Arkle Trophy.

Ned Kelly, who had been heavily backed for tomorrow's Champion Hurdle, has been ruled out of the race after working on Saturday morning.

Edward O'Grady, the horse's trainer, said: "Ned Kelly worked satisfactory but he didn't scope clear. It was decided not to risk him at Cheltenham on veterinary advice in the best interest of the horse." O'Grady said it was a big disappointment for everybody in his Co Tipperary stable and for the owner, Mrs Sue Magnier.

Rumours had been circulating since last Tuesday about the possible non-participation of Ned Kelly, who had been an 11-2 shot for tomorrow's race following an impressive victory at Leopardstown in January. But the rumours were firmly countered by O'Grady as well as by John Magnier, husband of Sue.

Ned Kelly had been the only serious, Irish-trained danger to Istabraq and the absence certainly helps the latter's cause. Istabraq, also trained in Co Tipperary, is due to arrive at Filton airport, near Bristol today. He carries the hopes of a nation when he attempts to win an unprecedented fourth Champion Hurdle tomorrow.

On the same day as Ned Kelly's defection, ante-post punters were also relieved of considerable amounts of cash when Tempo D'Or became an absentee from Thursday's Triumph Hurdle. The French-trained horse had been backed down to 8-1 favourite from 14-1.

Officials at Cheltenham yesterday left their official going report unchanged: Old course – Good to Soft, Good in places; New course – Good to Soft, Soft in places. A course spokesman said: "We have a forecast of showers, sun and then rain for Monday so the option of watering the course has been ruled out."

Confidence over Best Mate's chance in the Gold Cup was high after trainer Henrietta Knight's husband, Terry Biddlecombe, walked the course yesterday.

Biddlecombe, who was champion jumps jockey three times, said: "Best Mate is very, very well and he will love the decent ground out there. I'd say three-quarters of the track will ride good. But you wouldn't want too much rain as it is still a bit tacky in places. But all in all the course is in good nick."