French horses, including the Gold Cup favourite First Gold, have been ruled out of next week’s Cheltenham Festival due to the foot and mouth crisis.

The French government has issued a ban on the movement of horses and LouisRomanet, chief executive of France-Galop (the French Jockey Club), said this Would prevent France’s strong team of Cheltenham raiders from crossing the Channel.

This latest development is a bitter blow for top French trainer Francois Doumen, whose runners would have included First Gold, who has headed the Gold Cup betting since romping away with the King George V1 Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

Doumen was also due to saddle recent impressive Kempton winner Bilbao for The Triumph Hurdle.

Bilbao had been vying for Triumph Hurdle favouritism with another French horse, the Guillaume Macaire-trained Jair Du Cochet, who will also be an absentee.

With the French ban following hot on the heels of Ireland’s decision not to send any runners to Cheltenham, the guts have been torn out of many of the Festival races.

Tuesday’s meeting at Maisons-Laffitte on the outskirts of Paris has been abandoned because of the foot and mouth situation in France.