FERDY Murphy’s stable star Kalahari King is to be stepped up to three miles after today’s comeback race at Kelso.
This month’s Betfair Chase at Haydock is the likely target – a race that will see the reappearances of Gold Cup winner Long Run and former champion Kauto Star.
Second to Albertas Run in the Ryanair Chase at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, Murphy says the lack of two-and-a-half mile races is forcing his hand.
He does not expect the 10-year-old to win today, he says Sue Smith’s Stagecoach Pearl is the horse to beat at the weights because it has 20lb less to carry, but he has high hopes that Kalahari King – placed at four successive Cheltenham Festivals – can land a major prize.
“He’s more forward than last year,” said the West Witton handler.
“Today is a big ask, we’re conceding 20lb to Sue Smith’s horse, and the trip is over two miles, one furlong.
“But the Ryanair was over two miles, five furlongs and Graham Lee thinks Kalahair will stay three.
“The Betfair will give us more options for the season, but the Ryanair is probably the ultimately target.
“If we went for the Peterborough at Huntingdon, the ground may not be suitable, or it is called off, and we’re stuck.”
Murphy also saddles De Boitron – fourth in Cheltenham’s Grand Annual Chase in the Kelso race. Like Kalahari King, he’s owned by Neil and Julie Morgan.
“The aim with him is to end up back at Cheltenham in the spring, but this is a suitable place to start off,” said Morgan.
“He’s running from out of the handicap, but I hope he can run well. We want to find out this season whether we’ll be staying at two miles or stepping up in trip.”
Graham Lee returns from suspension to partner Kalahari King, while Keith Mercer – buoyed by a Hexham double yesterday as he picks up the pieces after a 14-month injury lay-off – will be the man in the saddle on his stable companion.
“The jockey situation has worked out great. Graham has ridden Kalahari almost exclusively, ridden him to a Grade One win at Liverpool and in a number of other big races,” added Morgan.
“Keith rode De Boitron to win a good handicap at Doncaster a while back and I’m very happy to have them both ride.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had two runners in one race, so it’s a little strange. I suppose I’ll get a small taste of what it feels like to be Sheikh Mohammed!
“As for Kalahair, it’s part of the programme and I hope he can run a good race, jump nicely and come back safely. That’s the main thing.”