Olly Murphy provides a Cork link to Cheltenham entry Thomas Darby

Talented horse came close a Festival victory in 2020
Olly Murphy provides a Cork link to Cheltenham entry Thomas Darby

Thomas Darby, ridden by Richard Johnson, wins The Matchbook Holloway's Handicap Hurdle. Picture: Healy Racing.

PROGRESSIVE handler Olly Murphy has revealed that Thomas Darby is being aimed at the Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle, one of the nine handicaps at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, for which a total of 676 entries were announced this week.

The talented Thomas Darby went close to tasting Cheltenham Festival success last year when runner-up in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and after reverting to hurdling captured the Grade Three Holloway’s Hurdle at Ascot in January 2020 under top weight. 

The likable eight-year-old recorded a pleasing effort on his most recent outing when third in the rearranged Grade Two Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton Park on January 9.

Murphy who was born in England has strong Cork connections; his father Aiden Murphy is a well-known bloodstock agent who hails from the Rebel county. 

Olly Murphy is now based in Worcestershire and is waiting on his first Festival winner. 

The plan is to go for the Coral Cup with Thomas Darby unless the Stayers’ Hurdle really cuts up and a few things happen. 

"He is in good order, but we decided to bypass the Rendlesham at Haydock at the weekend. A strongly run 2m 5f will really suit him and that’s where he will go. He would be one of my main ones for the meeting.

“His owner, Grahame Whateley, is quite keen to run him in the Coral Cup as he has won the race before with Diamond King, 2016. We were going to wait for Aintree, but we’ve not got many horses for Cheltenham as we have a lot of young horses, so we have decided to take Thomas Darby.

“He ran a good race stepped up to three miles in the Cleeve behind McFabulous and though this is slightly down in trip it should be fine for him as it will be run at a good pace.” 

Murphy will be heading to Prestbury Park with a strong team of contenders, most of which will be ridden by his retained jockey Innishannon native Aidan Coleman.

Hunters Call holds entries in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle and the tricky Coral Cup. Murphy hopes that his charge will run a big race in whichever contest he lines up in.

“He is in good form and he has the two entries in the Martin Pipe and Coral Cup, though I’m not sure he really stays two and a half as he seems to come there well and doesn’t seem to get home. He has had plenty of problems in the past, but it has been great to get a clear run with him this season. 

"He has been unlucky not to win a big one as he has run well in a Galway Hurdle, Greatwood and Lanzarote. He deserves to get a race like that.” 

 Winning trainer of Itchy Feet, Olly Murphy at Sandown Park. Picture: Healy Racing.
Winning trainer of Itchy Feet, Olly Murphy at Sandown Park. Picture: Healy Racing.

Another one of his challengers that could be onboard from the trip to Cheltenham is the useful Strong Glance, however Murphy isn’t to confident if he’ll be able to take his chances in the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle.

He is a very fast horse and if we run him it will be in the County Hurdle, but I doubt he will get in off 131 so we might have to look at Aintree and that might be more his target.

“He gave himself a terrible fright over fences at Ludlow and we have given him a couple of confidence boosters in these jumpers’ bumper races. He will run well wherever he goes in the spring over a fast run two miles.” 

Two of the young trainer’s best chances of landing the spoils at the Festival could be The Butcher Said and The Wolf, both are entered in the Ultima Handicap Chase.

“The Butcher Said has threatened to win a nice handicap all year. He is in good form and he could run well at a big price in a race that is sponsored by his owner. 

"The Wolf started off the season well but has had a few disappointing runs. At this stage I’m not sure whether he would run or not though he has plenty of ability. We might fit him with some headgear to try and get him back on track.”

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