The Grimthorpe Chase – Memories of Grey Abbey

Grey Abbey

Grey Abbey in flight

The BetBright Grimthorpe Chase takes place on Saturday at Doncaster. Originally over a much shorter trip, the race has evolved over time and in the mid-90’s was run over its current distance of three miles and two furlongs.

Due to the timing of the race and its extended trip it has become a regular trial for horses entered in the Grand National. It has also become popular with those targeting the Scottish National at Ayr.

One of its most famous winners was the wonderful Grey Abbey trained by Howard Johnson. In an illustrious career he won over £360,000 in prize-money. He took the Grimthorpe in 2004 before going on to success in the Scottish National.

A top-class performer and wonderful jumper of a fence, he also won the Betfair Bowl at Aintree by 12 lengths, the Pillar Chase (known as the Cotswold) and the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. He was good enough to finish fifth to Kicking King in the 2005 Gold Cup having led for much of the race. He loved to attack from the front and his major victories came from that aggressive front running style.

His Scottish National success came under top-weight at probably his favourite track, when again leading from the drop of the flag. He jumped and galloped the opposition into the Ayrshire turf with only Granit D’Estruval able to get close before coming down at the last.

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Graham Lee spoke in glowing terms after the horse had passed away in 2013 saying: “Grey Abbey was probably the best chaser I have ridden and one of the toughest horses anybody could come across. He was good to me and we had some great days. The Betfair Bowl stands out and that particular day I don't think any horse would have beaten him."

The gelding won nine times for trainer Barry Murtagh before joining Howard Johnson. He finished his career with 16 wins. Retiring in 2005, he spent the rest of his days living on the farm of joint-owner Ken Roper in Cumbria.

Saturday’s race may lack a Grey Abbey, but it is nevertheless a decent looking renewal, with several entered up for the Grand National in April. Last year’s winner Night In Milan returns for another crack at the race. Keith Reveley’s horse certainly enjoys his trips to Doncaster and has won twice at the track. He does most of his winning on decent ground, as in last year’s race, but he ran a belter in December in soft ground behind Grandads Horse. Rated 10lbs higher than last year, this will be a tough ask, but he does love the place.

Top weights have a poor record in the race with Cloudy Lane in 2008 the last horse to carry more than 11 stone to victory. Mon Parrain may run in this for Paul Nicholls, though he was a poor eighth in the race last year off a similar handicap mark.

Wayward Prince may well have fallen out with the game, but has plummeted down the handicap and is now 'thrown in' on his best form. Just over a year ago he was chasing home Harry Topper in the Charlie Hall Chase. He’s an interesting contender.

Another of interest is Charlie Longsdon’s Drop Out Joe, who was second on the card over hurdles a year ago. He ran behind Kings Palace at Cheltenham in November and though beaten a fair distance he looks to have the quality to be competitive in a race of this nature. A lack of experience could be an issue but you’d fancy he has the ability to go well. It’s also noteworthy to see Davy Russell on-board.

There’s some decent racing for the Yorkshire fans with a listed mares event also on the card along with a nice looking Class 2 staying hurdle. Of course many jumps fans are just killing time waiting for March 10, but a day out at ‘Donny’ is certainly a nice way to pass the time.

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