Mikael D’Haguenet ruled out of Cheltenham

WILLIE MULLINS has finally given up the fight to get the brilliant Mikael D’Haguenet to Cheltenham.

“Mikael D’Haguenet is stiff and sore after last Sunday’s work (at Leopardstown), which means we weren’t able to do fast work this morning, so we have run out of time to get him ready for Cheltenham,” said Mullins yesterday.

“While we were happy enough with the way he jumped at Leopardstown, it was his second racecourse school in the space of a few days and he didn’t come out of it as well as we had hoped.

“There are no plans and whether he will run this season, maybe at Fairhouse and/or Punchestown, or will be kept until next season, is a decision we will make in the next few weeks.”

Mikael D’Haguenet was the best staying novice hurdler in Britain and Ireland last campaign, numbering among his successes the Ballymore Novice Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Land Rover Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown.

He has had several setbacks this season, however, and Mullins was always facing an uphill struggle to have him ready for the Festival.

The RSA Chase would have been his most likely target, for which he was a top-priced 14-1 shot.

Meanwhile, Dermot Weld’s Rite Of Passage continued his Cheltenham preparations with a schooling session on the Curragh yesterday.

The 3-1 favourite for the Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle was partnered by Robbie McNamara, who will, of course, also be in the plate at Cheltenham.

Reported Weld: “He went round with Merchant Royal and jumped eight hurdles. Everything went really well, he jumped great and I could not be happier with him.”

Tracey Collins will have her first ever Cheltenham Festival runner this month through Loch Long.

Collins, who trains on the Curragh, is much better known for her exploits on the Flat, first through assisting her late father Con and then for achievements under her own name through the likes of Dandy Man and Pencil Hill.

Loch Long won several times last summer but was set some pretty stiff tasks, faring best when finishing third to subsequent Irish Leger winner Alandi in a Listed race at Fairyhouse.

He was beaten 24 lengths by Sea The Stars in the Irish Champion Stakes and was a similar distance behind Fame And Glory in the Irish Derby.

His hurdling campaign started off with two apparently ordinary runs at Leopardstown and Gowran Park but Collins believes his latest effort, when 17 lengths second to JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite Alaivan in a Grade Two at Fairyhouse, was much more like it.

Collins has made entries in both the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle and the Triumph itself.

“He’s entered in the two races and definitely goes, but we haven’t made a decision on which race,” she said.

“The last run was much better and far more like the ability he has showed at home.

“He was nearly brought down in the maiden at Leopardstown and we just can’t explain the run at Gowran, it was nothing like him.

“I’m 90% Flat, I just have a few jumpers, but you always want an opportunity to be at the biggest meetings like Royal Ascot and Cheltenham.”

Elsewhere, Kalahari King continued his build up to the Seasons Holidays Queen Mother Champion Chase with another seaside outing to Redcar yesterday.

Trainer Ferdy Murphy is keen to offer the smart two-miler plenty of variety in his regime with less than two weeks until his big day. Murphy, who is based at West Witton in North Yorkshire, used the same beach for some of Kalahari King’s preparation when his gallops were hit by the cold snap.

But an impressive win by the gelding on his comeback under top weight in a handicap at Doncaster showed the weather had no impact and he is only behind dual winner Master Minded in the Champion Chase betting.

“He worked on Wednesday morning and will work on Friday, but he has been down to the beach twice this week and he really enjoys it,” said Murphy.

Murphy has become a formidable presence at the Festival with one of his runners popping up in the handicaps most years.

He is whittling down a squad that will include progressive types Bedlam Boy and The Hollinwell.

“We will probably have 10 runners, and two in the charity race,” Murphy added. All of them have been aimed for Cheltenham and have had their prep races apart from New Alco.

“He hasn’t run yet but is having a prep for the Grand National in the William Hill.”

Meanwhile, Our Vic heads a final field of just nine runners in the Raymond Mould Supporting Greatwood Gold Cup at Newbury tomorrow.

The 12-year-old has enjoyed a fantastic start to 2010 having struck gold in the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock before filling the runner-up spot in the Blue Square Gold Cup at the same track.

Champion trainer Paul Nicholls saddles Big Fella Thanks and Pasco while Nigel Twiston-Davies is represented by Battlecry as he bids for a second successive big Saturday prize having saddled last weekend’s Racing Post Chase at Kempton.

Gary Moore’s Panjo Bere and the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Can’t Buy Time both arrive on the back of victories while Regal Heights, Stan and Au Courant complete the field.

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