Dwyer's Cheltenham hopes hit by whip ban

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It is not a remedy that you will find in a medical textbook, but the sight of Alderbrook winning at Kempton last weekend - with someone else holding the reins - seems to have significantly accelerated Norman Williamson's recovery from a shoulder injury. The champion hurdler's regular jockey will return to the saddle at Newbury this afternoon, and with less than two weeks left to the Cheltenham Festival, Williamson must try hard to forget the old saying that misfortunes come in threes.

After his victories in the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle last season, Kim Bailey's stable jockey was expected to consolidate his new position in riding's elite during the current campaign. So far, though, he has simply had plenty of time to catch up on his reading. A fall at Sedgefield in October left him with a broken leg, and during his first subsequent ride in Britain, on Eskimo Nel in the Tote Gold Trophy at Newbury in February, he dislocated his right shoulder in a fall at the fifth flight.

Cyrus the Great will be the vehicle as Williamson attempts to end his dreadful run of bad luck in the last race on today's card, a juvenile novice hurdle. "I saw a specialist last night and he was happy for me to return," Williamson said yesterday. "If the shoulder comes out again I will have to be operated on, but I'll just be trying to stay off the ground. I'm just having one ride and I might have a couple on Saturday. We'll just have to see how I get on."

Williamson's luck was no better at the Festival two years ago, when a suspension forced him to watch Flakey Dove, one of his regular mounts, winning the Champion Hurdle under Mark Dwyer. This year, however, it is Dwyer who will be a spectator on the first day at Cheltenham, after he was banned for three days 9,11 and 12 March, by the stewards at Nottingham. The officials decided that Dwyer had used his whip with unreasonable frequency on Master Nova, runner up by just a head to Baronet when 11-8 favourite for the card's novice hurdle.

"I won't appeal as there's no point," Dwyer said later. "It's the first time I've ever been in trouble over misuse of the whip in Britain, though I have been suspended twice in Ireland. It was disappointing not to get just two days as it was my first offence over here and that would have meant not missing the first day of Cheltenham."

Chris Pimlott, Dwyer's agent, said: "At this stage he did not have a confirmed Champion Hurdle mount. It would have been much worse if this ban had affected the other two days of the Festival when he has some really good rides."

A jockey in a better mood was Andrew Thornton, who rode a winner at Ludlow and avoided considerable embarrassment in the process. At the 14th fence in the handicap chase, Thornton's mount Maamur and Tony McCoy, riding Rectory Garden, jumped together, but McCoy seemed sure to hit the deck when his mount made a bad mistake. Thornton, though, reached across and hauled him back into the saddle. "Tony was going out of the back and side door," Thornton said, "And he needed something to grab hold of. It was funny, but it wouldn't have been if he'd beaten me."

Master Oats beat 14 rivals in last year's Gold Cup, but one trainer at least is hoping that rather fewer runners go to post for this year's renewal. General Rusty has not run since his success in the Charisma Gold Cup at Kempton in mid-October and his official rating does not put him within three stones of One Man, but unlike many of the other entries, Charlie Mann's chaser is a confirmed lover of fast ground.

"We will leave him in the Gold Cup just in case it is fast," Mann said yesterday. "Then the likes of Master Oats, Monsieur Le Cure and Imperial Call would come out and it might become just a five or six runner race. It's a long shot but you never know."

In fact, with clear skies over much of Britain and the track at Cheltenham untouched since early December, the odds on Mann getting his wish are shortening by the day.