Triple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate will not defend his title for a third time next week after he broke a blood vessel on the gallops this morning (Thursday 10 March).

The 10-year gelding was training on Mick Channon’s gallops in West Ilsley when he fell back. Trainer Henrietta Knight “immediately knew something was wrong”, according to a Cheltenham statement, and went to check him.

“He was pulled up and we found blood coming from both his nostrils,” says Knight. Best Mate had come down with a virus in January, which Knight feels may have caused the bleeding. “He has obviously not shaken [it] off,” she says.

As soon as she saw what happened, Knight decided to give the chaser plenty of time to recover. “[He] has never broken blood vessels in his life before and the vet said he needs to be put out in a field for a long rest,” she says.

Best Mate will not run again this season and will obviously miss the chance to win his fourth totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup, which will take place on Friday 18 March. “It’s absolutely shattering but it is better that it happened on the gallops rather than at Cheltenham,” says Knight.

“Of course it’s a huge disappointment, particularly for the team that looks after Best Mate and they have a massive support group who see Best Mate as the symbol of an era,” says Cheltenham managing director, Edward Gillespie. “But let’s not overdramatise the situation. [Best Mate] was withdrawn because he was not 100%. Our major concern here is the welfare of the horse.”

The gelding, who has only ran once at Exeter and once at Leopardstown this season, was the odds-on favourite for the Gold Cup. The mantle has now passed on to Kingscliff, the eight-year-old trained by Robert Alner and ridden by Andrew Thornton, whose presence at Cheltenham was in doubt until a month ago due to a back problem.

“Come Friday, there will be another winner,” says Gillespie. “Kingscliff is a wonderful young horse. But there’s also plenty of others who could be worthy Cheltenham Gold Cup winners.”