It is a measure of what the Cheltenham Festival means to the leading jump jockeys these days that, after taking a crashing fall at Southwell on Monday, Robert Thornton hoodwinked doctors – and himself – into believing that a catalogue of damage was nothing more than bruising.
But now Thornton, who had been due to ride, among others, Smad Place in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle next week, will miss his first Festival in 18 years as a jockey after finding out that he has broken his arm and three vertebrae.
Alan King's first jockey, who was leading rider at the 2007 Festival with four winners and has ridden 16 winners there in all, including Katchit in the Champion Hurdle and Voy Por Ustedes in the Champion Chase, will miss the rest of the season.
Admitting, like many jockeys do, that he had tried to "pull the wool over doctors' eyes", Thornton took himself to hospital in Cheltenham on Monday night for an X-ray which showed a new fracture in a part of his arm which was already plated.
Scans on his back on Tuesday revealed the damage – described as "minor" fractures – to his vertebrae.
"All you're thinking about at this time of year is Cheltenham, Cheltenham, Cheltenham," the bitterly disappointed jockey said. "You just hope and pray something like that is no worse than a bruise, and I went late at night so I wouldn't have to queue in A&E.
"The only positive is that the old plate is keeping it stable. It's a sickener. I have to see a specialist on Tuesday and it hasn't really sunk in."
Having slipped out of his regular slot in the top half-dozen jockeys, a Festival winner could have transformed Thornton's season, which has netted only 36 winners so far, a below-par score by his standards. King said he was "absolutely gutted". The stable's second jockey, Wayne Hutchinson, will take the rides, which also include Balder Success, Raya Star and Walkon.
The trainer rates Godsmejudge, in the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase for amateur riders, as one of his best chances.
Smad Place's chances of improving on his third in last year's World Hurdle are on the up as the ground dries out and were further aided by the news that the third favourite Monksland is likely to miss the race. The 5/1 shot suffered a setback on Tuesday.
An impressive winner on his first start over three miles at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting, the six-year-old was set to line up at Prestbury Park as a leading contender for the staying hurdle crown in the absence of four-times winner Big Buck's.
"He had a setback (on Tuesday) and although we don't think it's anything too serious, looking at him I'd say it's almost certain he is not going to make Cheltenham," said trainer Noel Meade.
"I don't know whether his season is over yet, we'll just have to see on that, but we're obviously gutted it looks like Cheltenham is out." (© Daily Telegraph, London)