Posted: 23rd Feb 2016
Arctic Fire: will miss the Cheltenham Festival, for which he was 7-2PICTURE: Caroline Norris (racingpost.com/photos)
WILLIE MULLINS suffered a second blow to his Stan James Champion Hurdle challenge in seven days last night when he was forced to rule out last year's race runner-up Arctic Fire.
Arctic Fire was found to have chipped a bone after he had exercised on Tuesday and will not run again this season, the trainer revealed, provoking another shake-up in the ante-post market.
Only last week Mullins regretfully announced he was having to abandon plans to run hot favourite and defending champion Faugheen who had a sore suspensory. That news followed the withdrawal of another favourite Killultagh Vic, who was due to contest the JLT Novices' Chase, with a similar injury.
Arctic Fire's absence means the trainer will head into the Champion Hurdle with none of the horses who filled the first three places for the stable at Cheltenham a year ago, the other Hurricane Fly having been retired.
'It's very frustrating'
Mullins said: "Arctic Fire worked this morning, after which we found out he had a chip on a sesamoid bone.
"We don't yet know whether it will have to be removed or not but I suspect it will. It's likely to leave him out of action for about 12 weeks, which means he'll miss the rest of the season.
"Obviously it's very frustrating, but just as was the case with Faugheen, it is not a career-threatening injury, so we have to look on the bright side."
Wicklow Bloodstock-owned Arctic Fire won the Grade 1 Hatton's Grace Hurdle in November and was second behind Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle on his last start.
Willie Mullins will be without the first three from last year's Champion HurdlePICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)
He had been the 7-2 second favourite but such is the Mullins strength in depth he still trains two of the first three in the revised market on the race for which Annie Power is a top-priced 7-4 favourite with stablemate Nichols Canyon, and Identify Thief, both 5-1.
His absence leaves 13 potential runners in the Champion Hurdle, for which mare Annie Power has to be supplemented, and Mullins left with three contenders if Sempre Medici takes his place.
Arctic Fire became the latest in a sequence of high-profile festival absentees due to injury of which Mullins, the outstanding favourite to finish the meeting as top trainer, has borne his share.
Gary Moore has been robbed of three of his hopes of success after having to rule out novice chasers Ar Mad and Violet Dancer plus Traffic Fluide due to setbacks.
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