Early joy comes Murphy’s way in Strasbourg

Balitimore Rock (right) ridden by Tom Scudamore wins the William Hill Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle.
Balitimore Rock (right) ridden by Tom Scudamore wins the William Hill Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle.
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ferdy murphy is used to training winners in Cheltenham week – he saddled 10 winners at the National Hunt Chase from his North Yorkshire base before relocating to France.

As such, it was fitting that his very first winner since taking out a French licence should have come at Strasbourg yesterday courtesy of Kauto D’Aloes, a distant relative of the iconic 2007 and 2009 Gold Cup-winner Kauto Star, who remains one of the best steeplechasers of all time.

“The horse was actually with Kauto Star’s trainer Paul Nicholls before ending up with me,” an elated Murphy told The Yorkshire Post. “We came here for the soft ground, Strasbourg is about a 10-hour drive from my new stables in Sennones, and it paid off.

“The prize money was grand, over 9,000 euros to the winner, and the jockey Thomas Gillet actually comes from Thailand.

“I’ve only had my French licence a couple of weeks, I needed to get the new stable sorted out first and have just over 20 in. The gallops and facilities are fabulous, Philip Carberry is among those based nearby.

“It’s just great to keep a winner on the board. I would have settled for that this time last year when I decided to sell Wynbury Stables.”

Murphy will still be taking a keen interest in the Cheltenham Festival which begins tomorrow.

He is particularly upbeat about the prospects of The New One in the Stan James Champion Hurdle. This horse, which won the Neptune 12 months ago, will be ridden by young jockey Sam Twiston-Davies, who rode some of Murphy’s horses last season.

One of the trainer’s last winners in Britain came in May when Twiston-Davies, still only 21, produced a tactical masterpiece to land the spoils at Kelso on the ever popular De Boitron for Julie Morgan and Lindsey Shaw.

Murphy mentored the young rider, son of top trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, when he rode in the North and said: “The more the ground dries out, the more it will suit The New One.

“I just think he is a very good rider and he’s the one jockey, in the whole country, who is going to be the main man in the future, more so if and when AP McCoy hangs up the riding boots.

“He’s a grand horseman, a good tactician and gets on well with owners. You need to be able to do all three and Sam’s improving all the time and willing to learn from the few mistakes that he makes. We should get behind him.”

Meanwhile, Cheltenham clerk of the course Simon Claisse refused to rule out the prospect of watering for the final two days of the Festival.

Following one of the wettest winters on record, it seems remarkable the taps may be turned on Prestbury Park, but that is a possibility as the ground is drying up and there is no rain forecast for the coming days.

Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls on Saturday expressed their hopes that no watering will be necessary, with the Festival set to get under way on good to soft ground.

While Claisse has no plans to water the Old Course, used tomorrow and on Wednesday, he said he does plan to review the situation “day by day” regarding whether the New Course could in fact be watered for Thursday and Friday.

As such, Irish trainer Philip Fenton will make no decision until the middle of the week on the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup participation of Last Instalment, even though the Irish Hennessy winner travelled across the Irish Sea yesterday.

Another horse whose plans remain on hold is David Pipe’s Baltimore Rock, who powered to an impressive victory in Saturday’s William Hill Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle at Sandown under Tom Scudamore.

The ninth time Pipe and his record-breaking father Martin have won the race in recent years, Baltimore Rock’s owner Roger Brookhouse will win a £100,000 bonus if his horse wins any race at Cheltenham.

Although Pipe junior completed that double with Gaspara back in 2007, he needs more than 30 horses to come out before Baltimore Rock can take his place in Friday’s wide-open Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle.

He said: “I’m not sure he will get in. He has a 125-rating and even with a penalty, that might not be enough.

“He has always shown plenty of ability and travels well, and when Tom schooled him last week, he jumped better than he ever has. He had a lot to find on the bare form, but he’s a handicapper’s nightmare because he only just does enough.”

Friday could be a pivotal day in the career of the aforementioned Scudamore, who has been described as the country’s “most improved rider” by former champion jockey John Francome.

As well as Baltimore Rock, he rides old favourite The Giant Bolster in the Gold Cup for David Bridgwater and the Pipe-trained Kings Palace in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle.

“At the moment, there are no flaws in him,” said Scudamore when asked to assess the chances of Kings Palace. “As for The Giant Bolster, I will be devastated if he doesn’t finish in the first three. The way he won the Argento, the more confidence he gives me.”