The Irish have pulled out of Cheltenham. This means that there will be no Irish-trained horses at the Festival, assuming the three-day showcase fixture is able to go ahead due to the foot and mouth crisis.

Following a meeting of the Irish Racehorse Trainers’ Association on Thursday it was decided that its members should adhere to the Irish government’s request that horses should not be sent to Britain.In a statement issued by the IRTA, the trainers said: “Given the present crisis with which we are engulfed, and until the foot and mouth problem is under control, under no circumstances should Irish horses be sent to the UK.”

It went on: “We urge the public to give due credence to the severity of the problem and refrain from travelling to Cheltenham.

“We are fully in accord with the Minister of Agriculture’s views that our horses desist from participating.”

This news will come as a hammer blow to Cheltenham. For Cheltenham, without Irish runners, will cease to be the highly charged Festival as we know and love it. No blarney. No bonhomie. And no Guinness drunk by the bucketful.

The most notable absentee will be the mighty Istabraq, who would have been bidding to become the first horse to win four Champion Hurdles.

In contrast, French horses remain free to travel to Britain and this news will be welcomed by French trainer Francois Doumen, who is responsible for First Gold, the favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

“Presently there is no prohibition onour horses travelling,” said Louis Romanet, director general of France-Galop, the equivalent of our Jockey Club.