The original cast for the delayed Boxing Day special at Kempton is due to reassemble on Saturday, with only a few minor changes. In his attempt to win a record fifth King George VI Chase, Kauto Star is still due to face 10 rivals, chief of whom – in case anyone had forgotten – are judged by the market to be Long Run, Nacarat and Riverside Theatre.
One jockey will be missing; Tom Scudamore was yesterday ruled out of the ride on the 2009 runner-up Madison Du Berlais after damaging a kidney in a fall at Sandown on Saturday. "I took a bit of a kick," he said, "and a scan showed I'd torn a bit of kidney, and I've got to go back in two weeks for another scan." His replacement on the David Pipe-trained 10-year-old will be decided later in the week.
Despite his retaining stable, that of Alan King, sending runners to Warwick the same afternoon, Robert Thornton will keep his ride on Forpadydeplasterer. The Irish raider, runner-up in his last seven races, will be stepping up to three miles for the first time and, though the forecast rain is a matter of some concern to trainer Tom Cooper, the nine-year-old will line up.
"Soft ground is something we could do without," Cooper said yesterday, "but the plan is to travel over and have a go. And he won't get beat for lack of fitness, we've been able to keep on the go since Christmas."
The sympathetic reaction to the admirable grey chaser Monet's Garden's current illness – the Nicky Richards-trained 12-year-old is suffering from a life-threatening hoof infection – leaves no doubt about how much most of those involved in the sport care about the animals who provide their livings and entertainment.
Rules about their treatment have rightly been tightened up over the years and yesterday the British Horseracing Authority confirmed that a high-profile jumps trainer will next month face charges relating to a serious welfare breach. Howard Johnson, who has had stars like Inglis Drever, Direct Route and Tidal Bay under his care, has admitted running a horse that had undergone a neurectomy, an operation to desensitise the back of the foot by partially removing the nerves that serve the area.
It is normally used as a last resort to alleviate the pain associated with navicular disease (the problem plaguing Monet's Garden) and can be effective on animals in retirement. But horses are forbidden to race after a neurectomy, on the grounds that if they cannot feel pain they have no defence against doing themselves further damage.
The chaser Striking Article, who carried the colours of Johnson's chief patron Graham Wylie, ran eight times after undergoing surgery. The neurectomy was discovered during a post-mortem after the horse was destroyed after suffering a fatal injury at Musselburgh last year. Co Durham-based Johnson will also face charges, the result of a separate investigation, over the administration of anabolic steroids to three different horses.
For his treatment of Striking Article, which is being considered under the rule covering his profession's duties and skills, he could face a ban of up to 10 years for wilful neglect.
Looking forward to the next Flat season, Australian middle-distance star So You Think has arrived at Ballydoyle ahead of his European campaign. And looking back at the last, Timeform has judged runaway King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes winner Harbinger worthy of the exceptional rating of 140, matching that of Sea The Stars the previous year.
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Sophonie (12.40 Newcastle)
Already winner of a chase in France, she had every chance when falling two out in a similar race last time.
Featherbed Lane (3.00 Leicester)
Made a promising hurdles debut when third at Huntingdon, then found the company too hot at Newbury.
One to watch
Bobby Gee (R Robeson) has benefited from surgery to help with his breathing, gaining two wide-margin victories.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Do It For Dalkey (3.10 Newcastle)