Champion Irish trainer Willie Mullins has been dealt a huge blow ahead of next month’s Cheltenham Festival with leading hopes Saldier, Douvan and Klassical Dream all ruled out of his team.

Douvan and Klassical Dream are previous Festival winners, whilst Saldier had been as short as 9/2 for the 2020 Champion Hurdle having impressively landed the Grade 1 Morgiana Hurdle on his belted return to action at Punchestown in November.

Both Saldier and Douvan are owned by Rich and Susannah Ricci, but have been difficult to keep fit in recent years and disaster has struck yet again. In his Racing Post column, Mullins said:

“I have to report that both Klassical Dream and Saldier are out of the Unibet Champion Hurdle picture and won’t be going to the festival.

“We had to withdraw Klassical Dream from the PCI Irish Champion Hurdle, but the leg infection he picked up and which looked a minor problem as turned out to be a bit more serious and we’ve decided to leave him alone. Unfortunately, he’s going to miss the rest of the season.

Saldier hasn’t progressed well enough since the setback he had after winning the Morgiana Hurdle in November and he won’t make the Festival. We’ll just have to see how things go.”

He added:

“It’s the same story with Douvan and he, too, won’t be going to the Festival where he is entered for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

“He started the season so well when winning the Clonmel Oil Chase in good style in November on his return from a lengthy absence, but he hasn’t run since and we’re just not happy with him.”

Could Benie Des Dieux switch to Champion Hurdle?

Whilst Mullins and leading owners Rich and Susannah Ricci have a leading candidate for the Queen Mother Champion Chase 2020 in the shape of Chacun Pour Soir, that is not the case regarding the Champion Hurdle.

They could, however, supplement Benie Des Dieux – the current market leader for the Mares’ Hurdle – for the two-mile championship contest.

The nine-year-old could not have been more impressive when romping to a 21-length succes in the Galmoy Hurdle over 3m at Gowran last month on her first start for 250 days. Interestingly, when Speaking recently on Racing TV, before news of Saldier‘s setback broke, Rich Ricci said when asked about whether Benie Des Dieux could go down the Champion route said: “I haven’t spoken to Willie yet. Would we supplement her for the Champion Hurdle? I don’t know.

“She’s very good over a two and a half and three, but it reminds me a bit of Annie Power in the Stayers’ and that was a mistake. We should have gone for the Champion Hurdle. We’ll have to see, but it certainly has to be on the table.”

Benie Des Dieux is a standout 15/2 with William Hill for the Champion Hurdle. Paddy Power, who are now Non Runner No Bet on all races at the Cheltenham Festival make her a 5/2 shot.

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Shiskin hardens for Supreme following stylish Sidney Banks success

Shishkin cemented his position at the head of the betting for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival when taking the step up into Listed company on his stride to land the Sidney Banks Memorial Novices’ Hurdle at Huntingdon in stylish fashion.

The Nicky Henderson-trained six-year-old, who had previously dotted-up at Newbury, turned the 2m 3f contest into a procession.

After being produced to take up the running on the bridle at the second last, Shiskin – who runs in the colours of Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo’s owner Joe Donnelly – cruised clear to slam Shan Blue by 11 lengths without barely having to break sweat.

Henderson said:

“That was perfect – that is what you are trying to do and that is what those races are all about. You are always nervous as they were very respectable opposition, but he has got a lot of gears hasn’t he.

“I think Mr Donnelly might have a couple of rather good shots at the Supreme. He is a beautiful horse. That was exactly what you hoped for.

“He was very impressive and is a chaser in the making. I’m not saying he is another Altior, but he is an Altior-type horse in that he has got a lot of speed and scope. He is a good looking, big, chasing type of animal that we like.”

I think Shishkin, who was cut into 11/4 favourite (from 4/1) with Ladbrokes for the Supreme, has the potential to be something really special and is going to take the world of beating in the traditional Cheltenham Festival curtain raiser.

Henderson eyeing Cross-Country tilt for Might Bite

Seven Barrows handler Hdnerson has also revealed that Might Bite could take on dual Grand National victor Tiger Roll in the Glenfarclas Chase at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

The multiple Grade 1 winner has already tasted success at the four-day spectacular having landed the 2017 running of the RSA Novices’ Chase. He went on to run a blinder 12 months later when a 4 1/2 length runner-up to Natuve River in the Gold Cup.

Things have not gone to plan since with the 11-year-old. However, having failed to complete either of his first two starts this season, he took a step back in the right direction when a 10 1/2 length third to old rival Natuve River in the Grade 2 Denman Chase at Newbury.

Henderson said:

“We have been trying to rekindle him back to form and we are thinking of the cross country chase at Cheltenham, but it is only an idea.

“We have been messing about with him for a few weeks at home, jumping all sorts of funny things, and he has been enjoying it.

“There have been a lot of people calling for him to be retired, but we rode him differently this time – out on his own – and he really enjoyed it and jumped great.”

It will be fascinating to see if the switch to banks fences can further rejuvenate Might Bite, who is a 12/1 shot with William Hill for the Cross Country Chase.

It did so with Tiger Roll, who is currently a best priced 13/8 favourite with Betfred to win the Cross Country Chase for a third time on the bounce ahead of his hat-trick bid at Aintree in April.

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