CHAMPION trainer Nicky Henderson was left "very sad" after Champ and Santini flopped in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Hendo was one of the few British trainers to enjoy some success at the Festival, winning with novice chasers Shishkin and Chantry House.
But he was dumbstruck by the performances of his leading Gold Cup contenders on Friday.
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Champ, who won last years RSA Chase and warmed up for Cheltenham with an eye-catching run over two-miles at Newbury, was pulled up after jumping just six fences.
He made several terrible errors, including a bad mistake at the first, and Nico De Boinville called it a day midway through the first of two laps.
And Santini, wearing a first-time visor after finishing second in the Gold Cup 12 months ago, was pulled up with a circuit to go after a shuddering error at the seventh.
A stunned Henderson said: "As Nico said, you wouldn't believe Champ was the same horse he rode at Newbury or everywhere else.
"He made mistakes at the first, the second and the third, and that was about it.
"I really can't believe it and I can't offer an explanation. He seems to have come back all right but we'll have to check him out from head to foot. Everything had been great."
And Henderson was similarly gutted that Santini failed to finish.
The horse had been expected to go close in the race, having come within a neck of beating Al Boum Photo 12 months ago.
But his underwhelming season continued, leaving his trainer saddened.
Henderson added: "Santini made a bad mistake.
"I came here with two good horses and I couldn't believe how quickly it was all over for us.
"If anything comes to light we'll say something, but at the moment it's inexplicable and very sad."
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