In Brief

Cheltenham Festival blow: Thistlecrack ruled out of Gold Cup

The King George winner was expected to be one of the biggest draws at the tournament this year, but is out with a tendon problem

Next month's Cheltenham Festival has lost one of its star attractions after the Gold Cup favourite Thistlecrack was ruled out for the rest of the season with a tendon injury.

In his absence Native River, the Hennessy Gold Cup and Welsh Grand National winner and Thistlecrack's stable-mate at trainer Colin Tizzard's yard, has been installed as the new favourite for the race on 17 March.

"The charismatic novice chaser, whom the British racing public had taken to their hearts long before he became the first novice to win the King George in December, notched up a sequence of nine wins until he was narrowly beaten by the ill-fated Many Clouds [who collapsed and died after the race] last month," says Marcus Armytage of the Daily Telegraph.

"The average length of time off to effect a full recovery from a tendon defect is a year," he adds. "Defending his King George in December might be a best case-case scenario, but being back for next year's Gold Cup is more realistic."

Thistlecrack was a "dominant force" in 2016 says Racing UK and his "scintillating" victory over Cue Card on Boxing Day made him a star, although for many it was his crushing victory in the Ryanair World Hurdle at Cheltenham last year that announced his arrival.

"The news comes as another huge blow to National Hunt racing's showpiece meeting in three weeks, with Thistlecrack joining the likes of last season's champions Don Cossack, Annie Power and Vautour all out. Previous champions such as Faugheen and Coneygree are also on the sidelines," says the website.

It means that none of the winners from the main races in 2016 will be at Cheltenham this year, notes Cornelius Lysaght of the BBC, and ten-year-old Thistlecrack will be particularly missed. "We had come to hang our coat on him in terms of generating interest", he says.

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