Racing: Grey Abbey joins Hall pilgrimage

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The Independent Online

Grey Abbey, who outjumped 27 rivals to win the Scottish Grand National winner in April, is on course to reappear in the valuable Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby on Saturday.

Howard Johnson, who trains the 10-year-old at Crook, Co Durham, said yesterday: "All being well he runs. He's in good form and won't mind soft ground."

Johnson sent out Ballybough Rasher to spring a 40-1 surprise in last year's Charlie Hall, but Grey Abbey would be only a fraction of those odds on Saturday - despite a high-class entry for the three miles and one furlong contest.

There are 15 entries for the £70,000 prize and that old stager Marlborough is among them. He will have a final workout today. The 12-year-old landed the race by two lengths in 2002 and went on to chase home Ballybough Rasher 12 months ago. "He'll work again in the morning, after which we will make a final decision, but the plan is to run," said trainer Nicky Henderson.

"We had him out this morning and he jumped beautifully. The Charlie Hall seems a logical place to start - it is where he started over the past couple of years. But I just don't want to see too much rain. He has won on soft, but I don't want to run him if it is too bottomless."

The official advance going yesterday evening was: "Good to Soft - Soft in places."

Knife Edge, formerly trained in Ireland by Michael O'Brien, may have his first run since joining Jonjo O'Neill. Owner JP McManus's racing manager, Frank Berry, said: "Knife Edge will probably run if he pleases us during the week. He has summered well and we would be happy with him. He definitely wants the ground yielding to soft."

Peter Bowen is waiting for the results of a blood test before considering the participation of Ballycassidy. The eight-year-old won seven races last season, although he was not seen out after being pulled up over this course and distance in February.

The Pembrokeshire trainer said: "He's going to have a trachea wash in the morning. He's had a blood test this morning, but I haven't had the results yet, so I won't really know until tomorrow afternoon. He wouldn't run unless the ground came up good."

Sir Rembrandt, runner-up to Best Mate in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, could be asked to make his seasonal debut by trainer Robert Alner, as could the 2003 Gold Cup second Truckers Tavern.

Other interesting entries include Aintree hero Amberleigh House, last season's smart novice Lord Sam, and Nil Desperandum from Frances Crowley's Irish stable.

Should the winner of the Charlie Hall Chase go on to lift the Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March, then connections will pick up a £100,000 bonus, with £75,000 for the owner, £15,000 for the trainer and £10,000 to the stable.

¿ Today's race meetings at Catterick and Nottingham were abandoned after morning inspections yesterday. Both tracks reported waterlogging and unstable patches of ground. Catterick's clerk of the course, Jonjo Sanderson, said: "The safety of horse and rider is paramount. We had eight millimetres of rain last night on top of about an inch since Friday which was just too much."

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