Star hurdler Faugheen OUT of Cheltenham

Faugheen won't be competing at Cheltenham 2016

Faugheen won’t be competing at Cheltenham 2016

Faugheen has a “sore suspensory ligament” and will not defend his title in the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, said trainer Willie Mullins.

The brilliant eight-year-old is suffering with a suspensory ligament problem which is enough to keep him on the sidelines for the big meeting in March.

Mullins tweeted: "Unfortunately #Faugheen will not run @Cheltenhamraces. He has a sore suspensory ligament."

Faugheen was an odds-on favourite across the board to claim back-to-back victories in the Champion Hurdle, having this season claimed stunning victories in both the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton and in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Earlier today Don Cossack and Vautour were among 21 horses still in contention for the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup following the latest scratchings deadline for the six non-novice Grade One events at the Festival.

Gordon Elliott's Don Cossack and the Mullins-trained Vautour currently dispute favouritism for the blue riband on March 18 and are among 13 possible contenders from Ireland.

Mullins could also call upon last year's runner-up Djakadam and RSA Chase hero Don Poli, among others, but Don Cossack is Elliott's only remaining entrant after he scratched Roi Du Mee and his star novice chaser No More Heroes.

Eleven horses have been taken out of the showpiece event, including Al Ferof, First Lieutenant and 2014 Gold Cup hero Lord Windermere, but all the big guns have stood their ground.

There are also no surprise absentees after seven horses were scratched for the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

Mullins ace Un De Sceaux is set to be taken on by former winners Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets.

Sprinter Sacre's trainer Nicky Henderson is responsible for three of the seven scratchings in Captain Conan, Josses Hill and Simonsig, while the injured Traffic Fluide has been taken out by Gary Moore.

Simonsig and Traffic Fluide also feature on a list of eight horses removed for the Ryanair Chase, for which 40 horses go forward, including Vautour, Al Ferof and Road To Riches.

Alan King's Smad Place is also out, confirming his intended participation in the Gold Cup.

Fourteen horses have dropped out of the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, but hot favourite Thistlecrack and Mullins' formidable pair of mares, Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag, are still feature in a list of 34 possible runners.

Annie Power and Vroum Vroum Mag are also the two stand-out performers in the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, for which 37 remain after eight were scratched.

The next acceptances for the non-novice Grade One championship races at the Festival will be at the five- and six-day confirmation stages, when horses can also be supplemented.

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