Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Howard's Still Waiting to Get the Green Light on Grey Abbey

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Howard's Still Waiting to Get the Green Light on Grey Abbey

Article excerpt

Byline: By Doug Moscrop

It's 18 years since a horse from County Durham won the Gold Cup. That was The Thinker trained by the late Arthur Stephenson. Today, Grey Abbey is a major contender for Crook trainer Howard Johnson, says Doug Moscrop.

It's Howard's way. You can suggest something to him but he has his own ideas and sticks to them. Howard Johnson is very much his own man.

"If I think I've found a race in the programme book for one of my horses, you can be certain Howard has his eye on another," says owner Graham Wylie. "And you can bet that it goes for the race Howard picked out."

The arrival of big-spending Wylie has propelled Johnson into the big league. An incredible three Festival successes already this week for his main patron has other major players like Martin Pipe and Paul Nicholls looking over their shoulders.

Now Grey Abbey could cap a memorable Festival for Johnson by capturing the Gold Cup. Wylie will be giving the grey every encouragement even though he is owned by the Roper family from Cumbria.

At an age when further improvement is unlikely, the 11-year-old could be an exception to the rule judging by his racecourse exploits this winter.

But this could be his only chance of winning chasing's most prestigious prize and the owners, rather than the trainer, have been mad keen on running him. Unusually, Johnson has succumbed to the pressure of the owners when he would have preferred to have run the horse under top weight in the John Smith's Grand National.

But the Gold Cup picture is very different now. Triple champion Best Mate is absent. So, too, the fancied Kingscliff while Farmer Jack collapsed and died on the gallops.

Yet it has been a race against time to get Grey Abbey there in one piece. He knocked a joint when winning the Pillar Property Chase at Cheltenham at the end of January. …

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