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Pandorama drama

A Gold Cup is the very least Noel Meade might consider sufficient redress for his misfortunes, over the years, at Cheltenham.

With less than seven weeks to go to this year's Festival, however, there was an alarming sense yesterday that Pandorama — withdrawn just before the start of the Ladbrokes.com Chase at the Down Royal Festival in November — must overcome the same malevolent forces that have confined one of Ireland's most accomplished trainers to just three winners at the meeting.

Pandorama's authoritative success at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting announced him as Ireland's best Gold Cup prospect since Kicking King and War Of Attrition consecutively exported the trophy in 2005 and 2006.

He was duly made hot favourite for the Hennessy Gold Cup, back over the same course this Sunday, but will now miss that race and seems by no means certain to make it to Cheltenham in March.

His owner Robert Bagnall expressed wary optimism when disclosing Pandorama's lameness.

“We hope he has just bruised his hock,” he said. “We're going to rest him for a week but it's my lifetime ambition to get to Cheltenham and Noel thinks and hopes this is just a temporary setback.

“He hopes he can get him back in training after a week and thinks the chances are a good 50-50 that we can get him to the Gold Cup.”

A dispiriting day for the Irish challenge at the Festival was compounded by the news Flat Out, rated a strong contender for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy, will not run again this season.

Still on the bridle when unseating his rider two out at Leopardstown on Sunday, Flat Out emerged with what his trainer Willie Mullins described as a “little chip fracture on a hind leg”.

Horses will always give their handlers problems and Martin Keighley was aghast yesterday morning when hearing a cough from his stable star Champion Court.

He promptly scratched the horse from his intended engagement in the opener at Leicester, which left the way open for Tornado Bob to make all for an easy success for Donald McCain.

Nor do horses permit complacency, even when clear and going well between the last two hurdles. That was the case with Invictus in the second division of the Leicester race, when he abruptly jinked right and shot Robert Thornton out of the saddle.

For Thornton and trainer Alan King, the sensation was doubtless matched by the announcement later in the day that Voy Por Ustedes, their dual Festival winner, has returned to training after injury — with Nicky Henderson.

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