Oisin Murphy excited to be making hurdles debut

By Sports Desk December 05, 2023

Three-time champion jockey Oisin Murphy is relishing the prospect of riding over hurdles for the first time at Wincanton on Thursday.

While most of the elite Flat riders are either enjoying some rare downtime during the winter, or plying their trade on foreign soil, Murphy will take up a new challenge in Dorset.

The 28-year-old is fresh from enjoying another successful campaign on the level, which yielded six Group One winners, including Classic success aboard Mawj in the QIPCO 1000 Guineas at Newmarket in May.

His mount on Thursday is the Cian Collins-trained Irish raider Lets Do This, who will contest the Danny McNab Bookmakers “National Hunt” Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.

Explaining his decision, the Killarney-born jockey said: “My uncle is Jim Culloty, who rode winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Best Mate), Grand National (Bindaree) and Irish Grand National (Timbera) and also trained a winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Lord Windermere).

“I worked with him in my teens, so jumps racing has always been part of my life and it has always been a burning ambition of mine to ride in a jumps race.

“I took out a jumps licence earlier in the year, as at one stage it looked like I might get a ride in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival.

“The programme of Flat racing means it is unlikely that I will be able to ride over hurdles often, but this opportunity arose as I know the trainer and owner of Lets Do This well. It is only a fairly low-grade handicap hurdle on Thursday, so it seemed like a good place to start.

“I have been schooling horses to prepare, though have not yet ridden Lets Do This.”

Murphy is set to be well supported at Wincanton, adding: “Jim might be coming along to see me ride and my friend Denis O’Regan, who recently retired, might be travelling over from Ireland.

“I’ll be walking the course when I get to Wincanton to see what it’s like and will try and seek the advice of the jump jockeys riding there. I am really looking forward to the challenge.”

Several leading Flat jockeys have enjoyed success under both codes, perhaps most notably the late, great Lester Piggott, who partnered 20 winners over hurdles, including the 1954 Triumph Hurdle hero Prince Charlemagne.

More recently, the likes of Richard Hughes, Jamie Spencer and Tom Queally have combined the two disciplines and Murphy hopes to add his name to the list.

He said: “It would be an amazing feeling to get a winner over jumps and I’m not looking beyond Thursday at the moment – I just hope I don’t embarrass myself!”

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    Barry Connell issued a positive update on Arkle favourite Marine Nationale after scoring with another potential star in William Munny at Naas on Sunday.

    A field of five previous winners went to post for the Download The BetVictor App (Pro/Am) Flat Race, which features top-class performers like Killultagh Vic (2014), Carefully Selected (2018) and Gerri Colombe (2021) on its roll of honour.

    Wingmen was an even-money favourite to provide the latter’s trainer Gordon Elliott with a fifth successive victory in the two-mile contest, but after racing keenly on the front end, he weakened late on and had to make do with minor honours in third.

    William Munny, a short-head winner on his racecourse debut at Navan last month, was a 13-2 shot to double his tally in the hands of Finny Maguire and showed a sharp change of gear to run down both Wingmen and eventual runner-up Fleur In The Park to score by an impressive five lengths.

    Connell said: “I’m astonished the price this horse went off. I thought he should have been even-money favourite on the back of his form.

    “The horse of Willie Mullins’ that he beat the last day (C’est Ta Chance) was backed as if money was going out of fashion and they were clear of the rest.

    “He’s hardly having a blow there and it was like a piece of work.”

    While Connell has no doubt William Munny has what it takes to make it to the top, he will resist the temptation to run in next month’s Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, but could go for the corresponding race at the Punchestown Festival later in the spring.

    “He’s very unusual for a Westerner, as they normally don’t win bumpers, they improve when they get a hurdle and a fence,” he said.

    “I’m definitely not taking him to Cheltenham. I don’t like giving them more than two runs in winner’s bumpers but I’m going to bring this lad to Punchestown for the Champion Bumper there, and I think he’s the one to beat in it.

    “In my view, he’s the best bumper horse in the country and I’m hoping he’ll be a Grade One horse over a hurdle next year.”

    One Connell inmate who most definitely has a trip to Cheltenham on his agenda is stable star Marine Nationale, winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the showpiece meeting last season.

    Following a foot-perfect chasing debut at Leopardstown over Christmas, he blotted his copybook for the first time with a disappointing showing in the Irish Arkle at the same track earlier this month, but his trainer is keeping the faith ahead of his return to the Cotswolds.

    Connell added: “Marine Nationale was in Fairyhouse yesterday. We brought the two Cheltenham horses, him and Enniskerry. Enniskerry runs in the Grand Annual.

    “We brought the two of them for an away day. They didn’t do a whole pile, just jumped the four fences up to Ballyhack and they are all set now the two of them.

    “All we need now is a bit of spring ground, and nine times out of 10 we get it in Cheltenham.”

    Connections of Noble Birth also harbour Cheltenham Festival dreams following his 16-1 triumph in the Pertemps Network Group Handicap Hurdle.

    Conor McNamara, representing his father Eric, said: “Things just didn’t quite go to plan in Musselburgh the last day, but it was lovely that he came right today.

    “He ran a blinder at Cheltenham back in November and was just too keen. It was my fault to put the cheek pieces on him, but we left them off him today and he relaxed lovely.

    “He was a few pounds out of the handicap today. If he gets into the Pertemps (Final) at Cheltenham, he’ll go – and if he doesn’t, we might look at Mallow (Cork) in a month’s time and see if we can get him qualified for the Final of the Full Circle Series in Punchestown.”

    Father and son Conor and Charlie O’Dwyer teamed up to win the Listed Nas Na Riogh Novice Handicap Chase with the JP McManus-owned Battle It Out (6-1).

    “The conditions suited him. He wants soft ground and a bit of a trip. He jumped unbelievable,” said O’Dwyer senior.

    “We’ll see what Frank (Berry, racing manager) and JP want to do and be led by them.”

    Willie Mullins unleashed yet another promising recruit in the Naas Racecourse Business Club Maiden Hurdle, with French import Tounsivator (7-2) winning with a little more in hand than the official margin of a length and a quarter might suggest in the hands of Paul Townend.

    The champion trainer’s son and assistant, Patrick Mullins, said: “Paul said he was a bit keen, but being an ex-Flat horse, you’d expect that. His jumping was good bar he stood on himself after the last. To recover and win after losing all momentum was impressive.

    “I’m sure he’ll go for novice hurdles at Fairyhouse and Punchestown.”

  • Elixir De Nutz connections to keep faith with Gingell Elixir De Nutz connections to keep faith with Gingell

    Freddie Gingell is set to keep the ride aboard shock Clarence House Chase winner Elixir De Nutz when he takes a shot at the Queen Mother Champion Chase on day two of the Cheltenham Festival.

    The 18-year-old has struck up a fine relationship with Joe Tizzard’s resurgent 10-year-old this season.

    After collecting the Grade Two Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter and a valuable Newbury handicap before Christmas, the duo reunited to deliver a small blow to Jonbon’s Champion Chase hopes when downing Nicky Henderson’s leading two-mile chaser in the rearranged Grade One event at Prestbury Park.

    A first triumph at the highest level was a notable feather in the cap of Gingell and with owner Terry Warner keen to stay loyal to one of the weighing room’s youngest stars, he is set for his first taste of a championship event at the Festival.

    “Fred will keep the ride and Terry Warner is keen to stick with him,” said Tizzard, who is also the rider’s uncle.

    “He’s got on with him really well this season and he will definitely keep the ride.

    “He keeps getting a good tune out of the old horse and it will do Fred well for the future to just keep getting rides in these big races, so he gets a feel for what goes on in them.

    “It’s a lovely opportunity for both of them.”

    Elixir De Nutz is enjoying somewhat of an Indian summer in the veteran stage of his career and having landed his second Grade One prize five years after his first, Tizzard believes he is at the peak of his powers ahead of his Champion Chase bid.

    “He’s had a cracking season; the Haldon Gold Cup was good and he’s just got better ever since,” continued Tizzard.

    “He likes a small field and there is not going to be a massive field (at Cheltenham). We’ve tried him in those big handicaps and that doesn’t work, so he deserves to take his chance after last time.

    “We’re not going there thinking we have a real good chance of winning, but he’s in the form of his life and he’ll have a great each-way chance.”

    Tizzard will also be flying the flag for the home team in the My Pension Expert Arkle Novices’ Chase, where JPR One lines up off the back of a clinical display at Lingfield last month.

    He is the shortest British-trained entrant with a best price of 11-1 and his handler would like to see the recent wet weather disappear, so the seven-year-old can experience optimum conditions at Prestbury Park.

    “He is in good form in his work and obviously his last run was a lovely performance,” added Tizzard.

    “We go there in the form of our lives and with a nice chance, but I still respect the Irish and if Marine Nationale got back on good ground, then he was an impressive winner of the Supreme last year.

    “I wouldn’t mind it drying out so I can get my horse there in the best shape I can and then we will see what happens on the day.”

  • Ferny Hollow returns with smooth success at Naas Ferny Hollow returns with smooth success at Naas

    Ferny Hollow made a triumphant return from over two years on the sidelines with a dominant display in the Newlands Chase at Naas – but appears unlikely to be seen in action at next month’s Cheltenham Festival.

    It is fast approaching four years since the Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old carried the Cheveley Park Stud colours to success in the Champion Bumper at the showpiece meeting in the Cotswolds and injuries had restricted him to just three subsequent appearances.

    He made a winning hurdling debut at Gowran Park the following season, but was then off the track for over a year, and while he made a smooth transition to jumping fences following his comeback with successive wins, including a Grade One at Leopardstown in December 2021, he had not been seen since.

    Despite his 791-day absence, Ferny Hollow was a 2-5 favourite for this Grade Three assignment, and in truth odds-on backers will have had few concerns for the duration of the two-mile contest.

    Paul Townend’s mount raced exuberantly and jumped neatly in the main and moved ominously into the wing mirrors of the three horses in front of him from the home turn.

    Once angled out into clear daylight, the Westerner gelding soon swept to the lead and only had to be pushed out after safely negotiating the final obstacle to seal a comfortable five-and-a-half-length verdict.

    Mullins said: “I was happy with him to do that after such a long lay-off. Hopefully, now he stays sound so that we can keep him that way.

    “He popped over a few hurdles and a few fences yesterday morning and I was happy with him. The conditions of this race suited him a bit better than last week (Red Mills Chase at Gowran Park).

    “I think he’s still young enough to put in a career best over fences. He just has to overcome this first run and come back sound and we’ll see where we go.”

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    “He’s entered in Cheltenham. It may be a big ask on his second run, but we’ll have a look. It may come a bit soon,” he added.

    “He settled lovely and even though he’s free going, once you settle him in, he listens and responds to you. We were happy to use those tactics and hoped that if he got around safe and sound that he’d be the fastest horse in the straight, which he was.

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