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Thomas ruled out after fall

Injuries are part and parcel of a jockey's life, but some -- no matter how lengthy the absence -- can end up being more detrimental than others.

That's all down to timing of course and Sam Thomas is now set to endure one of the toughest things a jockey can ever do and that is watch the Cheltenham Festival from his living room while on the sidelines.

While overlooked for the prime position on Denman in the Gold Cup, Thomas took that blow in his stride and was looking forward to the spare aboard Tricky Trickster while Tell Massini was set to be a good ride in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle for his boss Tom George.

However, while schooling alongside Tony McCoy at Paul Nicholls' Ditcheat base yesterday morning, Thomas took a bad fall and will now miss next week's action after breaking vertebrae in his neck. It's a major blow to the 2008 Gold Cup-winning rider.

Such were the initial fears of those on the ground, Paul Nicholls immediately called for the air ambulance service and Thomas was airlifted to Royal United Hospital in Bath where it was confirmed that although the injuries were not as bad as first feared, he had cracked vertebrae in his neck.

Speaking yesterday evening trainer Tom George said: "I haven't spoken to Sam directly, but I have spoken to his father who is with him and he will not be riding at Cheltenham next week.

"He has suffered a crack to a vertebrae high up in his neck but it is not as bad as first feared and he is able to walk, talk and move his hands and feet. It's obviously disappointing that he will miss Cheltenham but the news is largely positive and his injuries will heal with time."

On what was undoubtedly an eventful morning at the Nicholls' yard, Tony McCoy was also reunited with Denman where he sat on the 10-year-old and gave him a confidence-boosting school around.

"Denman jumped two hurdles then two schooling fences and then two proper fences," revealed part-owner Harry Findley.

"He was good and aggressive over the first and then a little slower at the second when McCoy had to cajole him along. Some days you can watch him and not have him on your mind but I give him nine out of 10 today."


Barry Geraghty is now expected to come in for the nice spare ride on Tricky Trickster in the Gold Cup.

At the latest six-day entry stage, Master Minded remained the headline act in the Queen Mother Champion Chase where he will face a maximum of 13 rivals, which include his Tingle Creek-winning stable-mate Twist Magic and the Irish duo of Big Zeb and Forpadydeplasterer.

Master Minded will bid to win the race for a third season on the trot and looks set to be a short-price favourite to do so, but trainer Tom Cooper is hopeful Forpadydeplasterer can give him plenty to think about.

Having been previously ruled out of the race following a setback, it is a juncture the trainer didn't feel he would reach, but he has since been happy with last year's Irish Independent Arkle winner.

"I am very happy with Forpadydeplasterer at the moment. He is fit, fresh and well. He had a setback but he is well over it now. We are going to Cheltenham without a run but I don't think that should be a problem," Cooper admitted.

"I think the Tingle Creek was a great effort on that ground. He had good horses behind him and on Wednesday the better ground will help him without a doubt -- he is a course and distance winner and is going back there with a huge chance," Cooper admitted.

In Wednesday's other races, Rite Of Passage headed 34 left in the Neptune Investments Management Novices Hurdle while the Nicky Henderson duo of Long Run and Punchestowns remain on track to clash in the RSA Chase.

There were mixed bulletins yesterday for the Champion Hurdle-bound duo of Binocular and Solwhit with last year's favourite Binocular likely to be allowed take his chance, while Solwhit's hopes hang in the balance.

Trainer Charles Byrnes revealed yesterday: "He's slightly improved today but the worry is we're running out of days at this stage. He still hasn't stopped coughing fully and gave one or two coughs today.

"But we gave him a canter this morning and the jockey who rides him said he feels as good as ever. He'll finish his medication on Friday morning and we'll scope him on Saturday."

Of Binocular, who finished third in last season's renewal of the Champion Hurdle, Nicky Henderson gave a very positive report.

"He had a hiccup but he's back now. He's in really good form. AP came down and schooled him yesterday and we think we are three quarters of the way to getting him back to where we need him to be," said Henderson.

Henderson's Zaynar disputed favouritism until being overturned at long odds on at Kelso last month but the trainer said: "We were having to use races we wouldn't normally go for but the ground was horrible and he got beaten for the first time. That was disappointing but excusable.

"He's back here in good form and he schooled the other day. He's in very good order."

There were some interesting fluctuations on Betfair yesterday when Master Minded drifted out to evens on the machine, while Dunguib was available at 2.02 which is just over evens, a price sure to entice many, although bookmakers report very little support for the opening race favourite.