Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack has been ruled out of the rest of the season after suffering a slight tendon tear, dealing the Festival yet another blow just three weeks before it is due to get underway.
Trainer Colin Tizzard confirmed the news on Tuesday morning, with last year’s World Hurdle champion being ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival after being named favourite for the showcase event.
"Thistlecrack is out. He had heat in his leg last night. The vet scanned him this morning and it's a slight tendon tear,” Tizzard was quoted as saying by the Racing Post.
Thistlecrack took a dominant win in the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day after storming away from stable-mate Cue Card, and it’s only defeat over fences came against Many Clouds, who tragically died shortly after winning the Cotsworld Chase last month, having suffered a pulmonary haemorrhage.
Tizzard still has a chance to win the Gold Cup though, with Native River elevated to favourite and Cue Card second favourite. The first non-Tizzard horse in the running is the Willie Mullins-trained Djakadam at odds of 11-2.
However, Thistlecrack had been available at just 15-8, and after the nine-year-old's phenomenal season saw him embark on nine consecutive victories until last month's defeat by Many Clouds at Cheltenham, he was the overwhelming favourite for the first big race of the year.
Furthermore, jockey Tom Scudamore may now be left without a ride for the Gold Cup after being slated to continue his partnership with Thistlecrack.
The loss of Thistlecrack from the Festival adds to the absence of big names at this year’s event, with both the 2015 Champions Hurdle winner Faugheen and stable-mate Annie Power already ruled out of the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle at the start of the month by trainer Mullins, who also confirmed that Min will not be risked in the Arkle Trophy.
Joining Thistlecrack in missing the Gold Cup is Don Cossack and Coneygree, while Valseur Lido was another in contention for the race as well as the Ryanair Chase, only to suffer an injury on the gallops last month. Ar Mad will not be pushed by Gary More into either the Champions Chase or Ryanair, while last season’s Champions Chase winner and racing great Sprinter Sacre was retired last November after picking up a leg injury.