My wife and I have had the pleasure of travelling north over the last few days. It’s hard to beat a short break in Scotland for recharging the batteries, sampling that wonderful Scottish scenery.
On route we had the good fortune of stopping off at the Wensleydale Heifer in the pretty little village of West Witton in the glorious Yorkshire Dales. It’s a cracking hotel and we had booked to stay overnight in one of their themed rooms; we were lucky enough to get the Chocolate Room. Not only was the bedroom and en-suite pretty luxurious, but it contained the added bonus of as much free chocolate as you could possibly eat. Other rooms include the Whisky Room, The Wensleydale Suite, the James Bond 007 Room and the Middleham Racing Room.
There’s very much a horse racing theme running throughout the hotel, with equine photos and paintings in the lounge and the bar area. It’s a great base, not only for The Dales, but for racing fans visiting the numerous racecourses in the vicinity. The village was formerly the home of one of the most successful northern National Hunt yards, run by the Wexford born trainer Ferdy Murphy.
Murphy moved to Wynbury Stables on the edge of West Witton in 1996. Over a decade of success followed with winners at the Cheltenham Festival along with victories in the Scottish and Irish Nationals.
The trainer produced a host of top-class horses winning major races throughout the UK. Kalahari King may never have won at the Cheltenham Festival, but he was without doubt one of the leading lights for Murphy and his team. Fourth in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in 2008, he was then agonisingly close to winning the Arkle the following year when failing by a short-head to overhaul Forpadydeplasterer. Third in a Champion Chase and then runner-up once more, this time in the Ryanair of 2011, gave the grand old gelding a mighty Festival record.
French Holly was one of the earlier stars of the yard. A winner of seven of his 13 starts over hurdles, he was successful in the Royal & Sunalliance Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, but also had three memorable runs behind Istabraq in 1999, getting to within a length of the great hurdler at Leopardstown and Aintree. It was hoped that he would go on to great things over fences, but tragically he died in a training accident later that year.
Murphy went on to have many quality chasers in the yard. His Scottish National victories came from Paris Pike, Joes Edge and Hot Weld. Irish Grand National success came from Granit D’Estruval in 2004. Producing staying chasers proved to be his forte, with him adding the winners of the Midlands Grand National, the Kerry National, the Rowland Meyrick and Sandown’s season ending Gold Cup on two occasions.
Poker De Sivola and the aforementioned Hot Weld both completed the Cheltenham National Hunt Chase and Sandown Gold Cup double. Their style of running could not have been more different. The latter loved to get on with things, galloping his opposition into the turf, whilst Poker De Sivola preferred being hidden out the back, only to be introduced into the fray when others had cried ‘no more’. In Hot Weld’s Scottish National success of 2007 Murphy also saddled the runner-up and more fancied stable companion Nine De Sivola.
It would be remiss not to mention another of the yard’s top chasers, the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up Truckers Tavern. True he was beaten some way by the outstanding Best Mate on that occasion, but the horse won a Peter Marsh Chase, a Rowland Meyrick and was placed in numerous other graded staying chases.
Sadly for Jump racing in Yorkshire, and the UK as a whole, Murphy took the major decision in 2013 to sell Wynbury Stables and move to France. He spoke at time of his new venture: “It will be the end of an era. I’ve had many grand times at Wynbury, but I’ve always wanted to train in France. If I don’t do it now, it is probably something that I will regret later on in life. The opportunity is too good to turn down. My eldest daughter, Caroline, lives in Normandy with my son-in-law Guy Petit, who is a top bloodstock agent, so it also makes sense from a family point of view.”
Based in the North-East of France, Murphy runs a small yard and is also involved in the sourcing of racehorses. He’s even taken to Twitter in an attempt to check-in on old friends in the UK. He appears to have settled well into his new life across the channel.
It’s hoped that one day we may see a Murphy raiding party at the likes of Cheltenham or Aintree. But for now, tracks in Northern France can expect to see a host of Murphy trained staying chasers scooping their major prizes.