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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 23 October, 2018
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The Cheltenham Curse? Plenty of stars will be missing from this year's festival

Thistlecrack and Annie Power are among the bigger names absent from Prestbury Park this week.

IF WILLIE MULLINS has had his share of good luck over the years, the universe has balanced itself out this season with a raft of injuries denying the Carlow trainer the chance to see some of his finest horses race at the 2017 Cheltenham festival.

It started, of course, when he lost the exceptionally talented Vautour in a paddock accident last November.

Vautour ridden by Ruby Walsh on the way to winning the Ryanair Chase Vautour on his way to winning the Ryanair Chase last year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Despite being just seven, the Rich Ricci gelding had wins in the Moscow Flyer Novice Hurdle, Deloitte Novice Hurdle, Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and Tattersalls Champion Novice Hurdle to his name before switching to chasing, where he excelled again, taking Killiney Novice Chase, JLT Novices’ Chase, 1965 Chase and Ryanair Chase at last year’s festival.

Ruby Walsh onboard Faugheen on the way to winning It's been over a year since we've seen Faugheen on a race course. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Faugheen has just one defeat in 14 runs — a second place to Nichols Canyon in the Morgiana Hurdle in 2015 — but has not run since winning the Irish Champion Hurdle by 15 lengths in January 2016.

It was hoped he could bounce back with a bang at this year’s Cheltenham festival — where he has a Novices’ Hurdle and Champion Hurdle to his name — but a stress fracture has ruled him out of contention for this race.

Annie Power ridden by Ruby Walsh on the way to winning the Stan James Champion Hurdle Annie Power jumps clear at the last to win the Champion Hurdle in 2016. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

The horse who succeed Faugheen as the Champion Hurdler, Annie Power, is also denied the chance to defend her crown because of injury.

The nine-year-old has won 14 of her 16 races and became the first mare in over two decades to win the Champion Hurdle last year but Mullins’ wondermare was found to have a leg injury in January.

Min ridden by Ruby Walsh clears the first on the way to winning The Racing Post Novice Steeplechase Min and Ruby Walsh on the way to winning The Racing Post Novice Steeplechase. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The last of the Mullins’ big name horses to miss out is Min who finished second to Altior in last year’s Supreme Novices’ and who was set to oppose his nemisis in this year’s Arkle.

However, a bone bruise will keep him out of the festival and one of the most anticipated tête-à-têtes of the year will have to wait.

Thistlecrack ridden by Tom Scudamore on the way to winning the Ryanair World Hurdle Thistlecrack winning the Ryanair last year. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Of course, Mullins is not the only trainer to miss out this week and Prestbury Park will be all the poorer for the absence of the terrific Thistlecrack.

Despite losing to the Many Clouds in his Cheltenham prep, there were many who had him as their Gold Cup banker before a tendon problem ruled him out of the festival last month.

Don Cossack ridden by Bryan Cooper comes home to win Bryan Cooper celebrates last year's Gold Cup success. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Another horse we won’t get to see defend his title is Don Cossack after Gordon Elliott decided to retire the 2016 Gold Cup winner last month.

The decision was taken after a recurrence of a tendon injury and we won’t get to see the so-called “horse of a lifetime” at Cheltenham again.

Among the other big names we won’t see are Coney Island, Sprinter Sacre, Coneygree and Valseur Lido.

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Steve O'Rourke

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