ROBERT Thornton had painful cause to reflect on the vagaries of racing fate yesterday. Just as a barren season was giving way to a bloom of winners, Thornton was rushed to hospital with chest and back injuries after a horrific fall in a novices' chase at Leicester.
Thornton (31) was fired into the ground as Cracboumwiz scarcely took off at the third-last, leaving a gaping hole in the fence. The jockey lay prone for several minutes and, after vainly trying to rise, was carried on a stretcher to an ambulance.
Meally Thornton, the jockey's wife, said last night: "He's going to be kept in hospital overnight but I don't think it's really serious. I think it's a back injury, but the people at the hospital have been unable to tell me anything."
Thornton's usually prolific form was stalled by sickness affecting the string of his employer, Alan King, yet only last Saturday three winners for the stable prompted hopes of a profitable spring for the pair. Earlier yesterday, Thornton had reached 50 winners for the term on Little George and he was looking forward to the mount on Mille Chief, Triumph Hurdle ante-post favourite, at Huntingdon today. Now, all immediate plans are on hold.
Meanwhile, officials at Cheltenham would relish the prospect of Denman gracing their Festival Trials Day meeting on Saturday. The possibility of the 2008 Gold Cup winner warming up for another clash with stablemate Kauto Star in the Argento Chase has fuelled anticipation ahead of the fixture.
"It would be terrific if Denman were to come here on Saturday. We will just have to wait," said clerk of the course, Simon Claisse. The going is now described as soft after being soft, heavy in places following a dry 24 hours.
Nicholls has admitted to being "dead keen" to run Denman on Saturday -- but a final decision will not be made until later in the week. Mark Bradstock has indicated his Carruthers is unlikely to take his chance in the race if Denman runs, while David Pipe is also playing a waiting game with Madison Du Berlais.
On the same Cheltenham card, trainer Paul Webber is keeping his fingers crossed that Time For Rupert can underline his Ladbrokes World Hurdle credentials with a good performance in the Grade Two Betfair Cleeve Hurdle.
The six-year-old has won four times over hurdles, most recently at Cheltenham last month under William Kennedy, and Webber is hoping for a bold show from the horse, which is a general 25/1 chance for the World Hurdle.
"Time for Rupert is extremely well and we are looking forward to getting him back to Cheltenham. We were thrilled with his win there in December," said Webber. "The form of his Cheltenham win has been franked by Wolf Moon and Made In Japan running well since and he stayed the three miles really well. We'll have to see how he runs on Saturday but the World Hurdle is on the horizon."
Time For Rupert could face 14 rivals in Saturday's contest, including Karabak, which finished second to Big Buck's on his latest start. Also entered are the progressive Lie Forrit and Tidal Bay, winner of the 2008 Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase.
John 'Shark' Hanlon's Western Leader is more likely to run in Doncaster's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle on Saturday rather than take up an engagement on the same afternoon at Cheltenham.
Hanlon's six-year-old showed a smart level of form in bumpers and has proved in just two starts over hurdles that he has transferred his ability. Having chased home stablemate Luska Lad on his debut, he then won at Leopardstown over Christmas.
"He'll probably go to Doncaster, I'd say, we are looking at that one. The race at Doncaster is a longer trip (three miles) than the Cheltenham race ," said the County Carlow-based Hanlon.