No Limini in Champion Hurdle field

Ruby Walsh riding Limini
Image: Limini: Will not run in the Champion Hurdle

Connections of Limini pointed to it having been a "big ask" to pitch her into the Stan James Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival after the mare somewhat surprisingly failed to feature at the six-day entry stage for the two-mile blue riband.

Trainer Willie Mullins had last week raised the possibility he and owner Rich Ricci "might take a punt" and supplement the six-year-old following her recent victorious seasonal bow over Apple's Jade at Punchestown - a race won 12 months ago by Annie Power, before she was successfully added to the Champion Hurdle field.

But ultimately it was decided not to pay the £20,000 fee and Limini is in line to tackle the OLBG Mares' Hurdle on the same day instead.

Ricci said: "You will probably know by now that we've decided not to run Limini in the Champion Hurdle next week and (she) will instead take up her entry in the Mares' Hurdle.

"I've said all along that there was no point supplementing for the sake of it unless we thought she'd have a big chance of winning. I never had an interest in running just to get my money back.

"Last year, when we supplemented Annie Power, we knew she'd go very close to winning, but it was difficult to say that about Limini given the fact she's had only one run this season and was taking on a field of very experienced horses. It was going to be a big ask.

"I want people to understand: I was clear all along that the decision would be made this morning and that it was far from a certainty all along what we would do.

"It's difficult when you're sitting on preview night panels to avoid being definite about things when decisions genuinely have not been made, so I sincerely hope I managed that."

Ricci admits the fact Limini will not contest the Champion Hurdle could now impact on the options for Vroum Vroum Mag, who won the Mares' Hurdle last year.

She has a handful of entries at the Festival, including the Champion Hurdle, but given Ricci has seen a number of his star performers, including Annie Power and Faugheen, ruled out through injury, he is eager to give his runners the best possible opportunity, even if that means his mares lining up against each other.

The BetBright chairman said in his blog for RTE: "What the decision on Limini means for Vroum Vroum Mag is unclear. I remember last year when we were supplementing Annie I said I wasn't sure we were supplementing the right one considering how well Vroum Vroum was working.

"So I don't know what to do. She's in the Champion Hurdle, the Mares' Hurdle and the Stayers' Hurdle.

"What you can do is to be too clever by half, spread yourself too thin and walk away with nothing. I'm not interested in that after the year we've had so, although it wouldn't be my usual stance, I wouldn't be against both Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag taking each other on.

"Both are working well, there is still a week to go and we won't be calling that until the weekend I'd imagine."

Limini's absence leaves the JP McManus-owned pair of Buveur D'Air and Yanworth, trained by Nicky Henderson and Alan King respectively, battling it out for ante-post favouritism.

McManus and Henderson have a second string to their collective bow through dual Champion Hurdle runner-up My Tent Or Yours, while the Seven Barrows trainer also has a third runner in Brain Power, who is owned by Michael Buckley.

In addition to Vroum Vroum Mag, Mullins has left in both Footpad and Wicklow Brave, with Henry de Bromhead's Petit Mouchoir the leading Irish contender following his two recent Grade One victories, most latterly in the Irish Champion Hurdle.

Moon Racer, one of the main ante-post fancies for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, stands his ground for David Pipe, with Nigel Twiston-Davies primed to throw Festival regular The New One into battle once again in the two-mile showpiece.

King's second string Sceau Royal, Dan Skelton's Ch'tibello and the Malcolm Jefferson-trained Cyrus Darius round out the contenders.

Tombstone was another horse not to be supplemented, although his absence was not entirely unexpected. He will instead run in the Coral Cup off what appears to be a tempting handicap mark.

The Gordon Elliott-trained gelding caused an upset on his latest start when beating Jezki, the 2014 Champion Hurdle hero, in the Red Mills Trial Hurdle at Gowran last month.

"He'll go for the Coral Cup. We've got Petit Mouchoir in the Champion Hurdle," said Eddie O'Leary, racing manager for owners Gigginstown House Stud.

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