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.”