Paul Nicholls’ useful performer Sam Winner has been ruled out of action for the rest of the season after suffering a serious knee injury in a Cheltenham fall that very nearly cost him his life, writes Elliot Slater.

The French bred four-year-old proved himself a talented horse over hurdles last season making his debut for the Nicholls yard at Cheltenham last November when scoring an impressive 15-length victory over current Champion Hurdle second-favourite Grandouet in the Grade 2 JCB Triumph Hurdle Trial, a win that catapulted him to the head of the ante-post market for the main race the following March. He scored again at Cheltenham four weeks later before meeting his first defeat at the hands of the useful Marsh Warbler when an odds-on favourite for a Grade 1 contest at Chepstow in January, after which he had a break before finishing a respectable fourth to Zarkandar in the Triumph Hurdle itself. Even those looking at the ante-post Cheltenham Gold Cup odds will have been impressed.

Out if the frame at Aintree at the end of last term after a long season, Sam Winner was a leading hopes for both the Arkle Chase and the Jewson Novice Chase at this season’s Cheltenham Festival and was expected to high rank amongst this term’s first-season novice chaser. Sadly, things did not go to plan with Nicholls’ charge three-lengths clear at the last on his fencing bow at Exeter in November when coming down steeply and eventually crumpling on landing.

Hopes were high that he would put that mishap behind him but Sam Winner suffered a similar fate on his most recent outing at Cheltenham on December 9, travelling strongly in second place at the third from home only to meet the fence wrong and take a crashing fall in which he sustained a fractured knee. Thankfully, hopes are high that after surgery the Okawango gelding will return to the fray in due course, but that will certainly not be this campaign.

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