Racing: Leg injury could force Grey Abbey out of Cheltenham

Grey Abbey, a top contender for the Gold Cup four weeks tomorrow, may be forced to miss the race because of a leg injury, the Co Durham trainer Howard Johnson revealed yesterday. The popular, front-running grey had been heavily backed for Cheltenham after romping home in the Pillar Chase at the same track last month.

Grey Abbey, a top contender for the Gold Cup four weeks tomorrow, may be forced to miss the race because of a leg injury, the Co Durham trainer Howard Johnson revealed yesterday. The popular, front-running grey had been heavily backed for Cheltenham after romping home in the Pillar Chase at the same track last month.

Unbeaten over fences since being transferred to Johnson, the 11-year-old had been as short as 6-1 for the Festival showpiece. "He has knocked a joint and we are having it scanned," Johnson said.

"He's sound when he walks - he can go a mile and a half in a straight line no problem but when he stands in his box it fills back up."

Grey Abbey is also the current top weight in the Grand National in early April and had been a general 20-1 chance for Aintree.

Johnson had more heartening news of other Cheltenham contenders in his stable. The trainer said he hopes to have Barry Geraghty aboard Inglis Drever in the Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton on Saturday, after shelving plans to run the six-year-old at Fontwell the following day.

Connections of the Royal & SunAlliance hurdle second were left without a jockey as the regular partner Graham Lee is ruled out through injury and Tony Dobbin has to serve a one-day suspension on Sunday.

Inglis Drever carries the colours of Johnson's main patron Graham Wylie and the pair may be represented by the Ladbrokes World Hurdle candidate Royal Rosa in the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at Haydock this weekend.

Another Festival hope from Johnson's stable is the recent winner Akilak, who was bought out of the John Oxx stable and is entered in this weekend's Victor Ludorum Juvenile Novices' Hurdle.

At Leicester yesterday, a first victory for Thieves'glen failed to stop trainer Hughie Morrison from hitting out at the British Horseracing Board's handicappers and race- planners.

The seven-year-old, bred by Morrison and a half-brother to his smart staying chaser Frenchman's Creek, needed all of Tony McCoy's strength in the saddle to win by just a head in the Cottesbrooke Maiden Chase.

But Morrison later said: "He's been unlucky. He ran well in his bumpers and far too well in his first hurdle race - the handicapper was cruel on him. He hasn't forgiven him. On that form today he should drop him 10lb. He was beaten 40 lengths on his previous start and the handicapper kept him on a mark of 115.

"You've got to give these nice horses a chance. One thing's for certain I won't run a nice future chasing prospect in a decent hurdle race ever again. It's not worth it. And such is the way novice handicaps are designed nowadays, it encourages you not to try. The BHB planning department are actually working against you."

Morrison added that, despite the hunting ban starting at the end of this week, "I will probably take him [Thieves'glen] hunting on Saturday. I've not been hunting for three years but I'm definitely going hunting on Saturday."

Morrison added: "Both he and his half-brother Frenchman's Creek have had time off with sore shins. Frenchman's Creek is in good form. We are training him for the Grand National and he might have a run at Cheltenham beforehand."

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