Olly Murphy has yet to decide whether to run Thomas Darby in the Howden Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on Saturday week.
The Stratford trainer reports the eight-year-old to be in fine shape following his victory in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury, but is in no rush to commit Thomas Darby to the Grade One over an extended three miles.
“He’s in really good form. It’s still up in the air whether I’m going to go to Ascot with him,” said Murphy.
“I’ll look at the back end of the week or early next week, but I couldn’t be happier with him.
“He’s come out of Newbury really well. I haven’t done a lot with him.”
Thomas Darby is a general 7-1 chance with bookmakers for the Long Walk.
Murphy is to scour the programme book to find a suitable opportunity over the festive period for Itchy Feet.
The smart seven-year-old chaser has run two big races in defeat so far this season, finishing second to Allmankind in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and to Bravemansgame in a Graduation Chase at Haydock.
“He came out of Haydock really well. It was a really pleasing run in hindsight. I’m not quite sure where we are going to go next but he’s in great form,” said Murphy.
“He deserves to win a nice race. He’s been ultra consistent this year and I’m looking forward to finding something suitable for him over the Christmas and New Year period once I’ve spoken to connections.”
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Itchy Feet is set to head to Haydock following a fine run on his seasonal return in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree.
The seven-year-old was beaten only a length by Allmankind on his first start since he was third to Fakir d’Oudairies in the Grade One Marsh Chase at Aintree in April.
After last month’s pipe-opener, trainer Olly Murphy is targeting Haydock’s Double Daily Rewards With Betfair Graduation Chase on November 20.
The Stratford trainer said: “He’s good, he ran very well. Dan’s (Skelton) horse (Allmankind) has had a run this year, and that lack of sharpness just caught him out.
“He will step up in trip before too long and hopefully he will win a nice race this season. He deserves to. Stepping up in trip is going to be imperative from now on.
“There’s a race at Haydock, an intermediate chase, for horses that have no won more than two races. We will look at something like that.”
Murphy has Aintree in mind this weekend, meanwhile, as a starting point for Brewin’upastorm’s season.
The eight-year-old, who ran both over fences and the smaller obstacles during the last campaign, is heading for Saturday’s Betway Hurdle over two and a half miles.
“He’s good and he goes to Aintree for the conditions hurdle,” said Murphy.
“I’m really looking forward to getting him started.”
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Itchy Feet could earn himself a crack at the Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle with a bold showing at Haydock on Saturday.
Olly Murphy’s stable star reverts to the smaller obstacles for the William Hill Rendlesham Hurdle, having run exclusively over fences since October 2019, and also tests his stamina at three miles for the first time.
Earlier this season, the seven-year-old finished third in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and second in the 1965 Chase at Ascot, before returning to the latter venue to finish second in a conditions chase a couple of months ago.
He suffered a broken blood vessel on his most recent outing, but Murphy expects to have a clearer idea of potential targets for the spring after this weekend’s Grade Two event.
He said: “He’s in good form and should handle the ground fine.
“Going over three miles for the first time is going to be a big question, but I think he’ll stay. I’ve wanted to run him over three miles for a while – he gets a nice weight allowance off a few horses in the race, and I’m looking forward to running him.
“He’d have to be running very well to warrant running in a Stayers’ Hurdle, but if he wins or runs very well that’s the route we’ll take.”
Itchy Feet is set to face seven rivals on Merseyside, including last year’s winner Emitom – who also switches back to hurdles following a spell chasing for Warren Greatrex.
David Pipe saddles bargain-buy Main Fact, who rattled off nine successive victories in 2020, the most recent of which came in the Grade Three Stayers’ Handicap Hurdle over this course and distance in November.
The Pond House handler believes the eight-year-old is better than he showed when tailed off in the Long Walk at Ascot on his latest appearance.
“He’ll love the ground, and we think he might be a little bit better going back left-handed,” said Pipe.
“I’m not sure he ran his true race at Ascot, but he was beaten a long way. We’ll find out on Saturday if he’s better than that.
“It looks a competitive race, and there’s a few with question marks. Our horse is in good form at home, and it will be interesting.”
Rebecca Curtis will be hoping a wind operation can help last year’s shock Stayers’ Hurdle winner Lisnagar Oscar bounce back from a couple of ordinary efforts so far this term, with Nicky Henderson’s On The Blind Side another to consider in an open contest.
The most valuable race on the card is the £75,000 William Hill Grand National Trial.
Pipe is represented by top-weight Ramses De Teillee, who was last seen finishing down the field in the Welsh Grand National.
“He made a mistake at the first fence at Chepstow and was always on the back foot after that,” said the trainer.
“He’s won at Haydock before, and conditions will suit. He’s got a lot of weight – so we’re taking 5lb off, with Fergus Gillard on board.
“If he turns up on his A-game then he’s got an each-way chance.”
Other contenders include Welsh Grand National runner-up The Two Amigos, and a pair of course-and-distance winners in Lord Du Mesnil and Perfect Candidate.
Lord Du Mesnil was beaten a long way in the Welsh National, but trainer Richard Hobson is optimistic of an improved performance.
He said: “It doesn’t really matter how fast they go. The thing is when it’s heavy ground, nothing’s going to go faster than him anyway.
“Obviously, we’ve had a few issues with him since Cheltenham (last spring), but he seems to be going the right way now.
“If he gets his ground at the weekend, and the way he’s been working, I would say he’d have a big shout.”
Perfect Candidate is in the twilight of his career at the age of 14, but proved he is no back number when winning at Haydock for the second time in November.
Trainer Fergal O’Brien said: “We’re looking forward to running him. There can’t be many 14-year-olds rated as high as he is now.
“If he can get round then he won’t be a million miles away. I suppose it all depends on if he can keep up with them.
“He owes us absolutely nothing. He loves Haydock, and Paddy (Brennan) knows him very well.”
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Olly Murphy still retains full faith in Itchy Feet, despite his winless first half of the season.
The seven-year-old provided his trainer with the first Grade One win of his career in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase in February – but not much as gone right since.
He was an early casualty in the Marsh Novices’ Chase – and while there have been flashes of promise in three runs this season, he has yet to win.
He did have a valid excuse when a closing second in a Graduation Chase at Ascot most recently, however.
“He obviously burst a blood vessel at Ascot, and we’ve checked him over,” said Murphy.
“I’m not sure where we are going to go with him, but he’s in good form and is back in work.
“We’ll look for something in a fortnight or three weeks.
“He’s been running remarkably well, considering how he’s been going through his races. He’s well able to jump at home, but he’s been sloppy on the track.
“I’m looking forward to getting him back on track. Ascot was a remarkable run. He finished off ever so well considering he burst a blood vessel – if he can get his act together he’s got a good race in him.”
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Itchy Feet is likely to return to Ascot for a first attempt at three miles next month after chasing home Imperial Aura at the Berkshire circuit on Saturday.
Having finished third on his seasonal reappearance in the Old Roan at Aintree, Olly Murphy’s charge was the outsider of four runners in the Grade Two Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase.
While ultimately no match for Kim Bailey’s impressive winner, Itchy Feet stayed on strongly to fill the runner-up spot, despite a couple of significant jumping errors at the business end of the race.
Murphy said: “He ran well. It was only his fourth completed start over fences, so he still lacks a bit of experience and I think that showed from four out to three out, where he made two bad mistakes, which really put him on the back foot.
“He stayed going well and I thought he ran a big race considering the two mistakes he made. I’m not saying we would have beaten the winner, but we would have finished an awful lot closer to him if we didn’t take the fourth last with us!”
While Murphy feels the six-year-old is now ready for a step up in trip, he has all but ruled out a tilt at the Ladbrokes King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, instead favouring Ascot’s Dave Dawes Silver Cup a week earlier.
He added: “He’s come out of the race fine and there’s a three-mile handicap chase back at Ascot on December 19. There’s a two-mile-five graduation chase on the same day, but I want to go up in trip, so I’d say we’ll probably look at the three-mile handicap.
“I don’t think we’ll be going for the King George – I just think everything would happen too quickly for him round Kempton.
“He’s a good horse and had a good horse in Real Steel behind him the other day – I just think he wants three miles and soft ground.
“He’s a horse who is going to compete at the highest level, I’ve no doubt.”
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Olly Murphy is considering options at Haydock and Cheltenham for Itchy Feet following his promising return to action in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree.
The six-year-old was a leading contender for the Marsh Novices’ Chase at last season’s Cheltenham Festival, having won his first two starts over fences, but stumbled badly and unseated Gavin Sheehan after the sixth fence.
He was well fancied to make a winning reappearance on Merseyside last month, and while he came up a little short – finishing third behind surprise winner Nuts Well – Murphy is confident there is a lot to look forward to.
“He’s come out of Aintree absolutely fine. There’s a graduation chase on Betfair Chase day at Haydock (November 21), or we might look at the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup at Cheltenham (December 12), so we’ve got a couple of options,” he said.
“He’s in good nick and ran a good race the other day. He just lacked a little bit of experience and had a good blow from the back of the last – like all of mine, he’ll come on for the run.”
The Warren Chase handler is similarly optimistic about the future for Champagnesuperover, despite his odds-on defeat at Stratford last week.
The high-class bumper performer was long odds-on for his hurdling debut, but was beaten into second place by When You’re Ready.
“Two miles on good to soft ground at Stratford wasn’t ideal for him and he had a blow,” said Murphy.
“He wants to go to a big track over two and a half miles and have real soft ground.
“There’s no big trophies won at Stratford in October – it’s a long season.”
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Having enjoyed a breakthrough campaign last term, Olly Murphy is setting the bar even higher as the jumps season really starts to kick into gear.
Having been associated with a number of Grade One winners during his time as assistant to Gordon Elliott, the Wilmcote handler celebrated the first top-level triumph of his own with Itchy Feet in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown in February.
Though the Kate and Andrew Brooks-owned gelding failed to follow up that success when unseating Gavin Sheehan mid-race in the Marsh Novices’ Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, Murphy expects the six year-old to be a major contender for big-race honours this season.
He said: “Itchy Feet is in great form and the plan is to go for the Old Roan at Aintree. He is still very unexposed as he has really only had two runs over fences.
“What his long-term goal is, I don’t know, but we will get the Old Roan out of the way. If he went and won up there, we might look at something like the King George as I do think he will get an easy three miles.
“He is a horse that has fooled me as his two best runs were at Cheltenham and Sandown on very soft ground and I always thought he wanted nice ground.”
Thomas Darby saw his chasing career aborted after two defeats over fences last season, but having returned to form back over the smaller obstacles, Murphy believes he could have a potential Paddy Power Stayers’ Hurdle candidate on his hands.
He said: “He is a horse, on his day, that is very good and a horse capable of being competitive at Grade One level, which he has shown before.
“I’m going to stick over hurdles with him and he will go to Aintree to the conditions hurdle in November, with maybe the view to stepping him up in trip and looking at those good three-mile races.
“I don’t see any reason why he won’t stay three miles and the staying division looks fairly open at the moment – it’s an avenue we will explore.”
Brewin’upastorm’s Festival run did not go to plan as he parted company with Richard Johnson in the Arkle, however, Murphy is confident the best is yet to come from the lightly-raced seven-year-old.
He said: “He was just starting to get into the Arkle, but nothing went right for him in the race and it was topped off by unseating Dicky.
“I am going to step him back up in trip and he may well go up to Carlisle for the Colin Parker, or to Down Royal for that Grade Two over two and half miles there.
“He is in fantastic form and looks magnificent. He is one we have not seen the best of yet.
“The Ryanair might be a nice target in time, but I think he is a very good horse when everything goes to plan.”
Murphy feels the switch to chasing will help Overthetop realise his potential having come up short in both of his efforts at Graded level over hurdles.
He said: “He has frustrated me a little bit as every time I stepped him up to Graded company, he has disappointed me a little bit.
“I thought he would be a Graded horse over hurdles, but there is no doubt he would be a smart staying novice chaser and one to look forward to.
“He will run when the ground eases, most likely in a two-and-a-half-mile novices’ chase. Going over fences will just give him that bit more time.”
Skandiburg saw his hat-trick bid come unstuck in the Pertemps Final, but Murphy is backing the six-year-old to revive his fortunes over fences.
He said: “He was a star last season. He is a horse that really puts a smile on my face as he tries very hard. At Cheltenham he certainly wasn’t himself.
“He is likely to start off over two and a half miles, but he will want three and could be one for the National Hunt Chase. He jumps very well.”
Keeping Nickolson sound presents as much of a challenge as getting him fit for races, but with a clear run, Murphy predicts big things for the Tim Syder-owned gelding.
He said: “The plan is to go to Carlisle for an intermediate hurdle. The race is made for him as it is for horses that have only run twice over hurdles. He will go there with a view to going to the Gerry Feilden at Newbury after that.
“I don’t like talking horses up, but he is as nice a horse as I have in the place. He hasn’t fulfilled his potential yet, I just hope he can.”
Linelee King may have found the Champion Bumper beyond him on his final start last season, but he secured what the avid Aston Villa fan hopes will be the first of many victories over hurdles at Kelso on Sunday.
He said: “He wasn’t right that day in the Champion Bumper, but he did what was expected at Kelso.
“I will step him up in trip on a more galloping track next. I think we will keep things small for the time being.”
Of those waiting in the wings, Champagnesuperover and Jetaway Joey are two Murphy particularly cannot wait to unleash over hurdles in the coming weeks.
He said: “Champagnesuperover is a horse that will hopefully take high rank in the novice hurdle division.
“He will want two-and-a-half, but a Tolworth Hurdle on very heavy ground might just suit him well as a mid-season target.
“Jetaway Joey is a lovely horse that will be a staying type. He handles soft conditions very well and from what we’ve seen, he jumps great. I think he could be a bit of a dark horse.”
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