FERDY Murphy, one of Yorkshire’s most successful National Hunt trainers and the winner of 10 Cheltenham Festival races, is to relocate to France.
A handler who specifically targeted steeplechasing’s most prestigious prizes, he is to sell his Wynbury Stables at West Witton, near Middleham, where he has saddled 650 winners.
The County Wexford-born trainer is already in the process of acquiring new stables in Upper Normandy and says his decision is three-fold – he wants to devote more time to his extended family’s successful breeding business; the buying and selling of young stock and, subject to acquiring a licence from France Galop, the training of around 20 racehorses.
In recent times, no Northern trainer has enjoyed as much Cheltenham success as Murphy.
An individual credited by Grand National-winning trainer Sue Smith for speaking up for Yorkshire racing, Murphy intends to cultivate the connections that he has established on his frequent forays to France.
“I’ve had many grand times at Wynbury, but I’ve always wanted to train in France,” said Murphy, who has timed his transition to coincide with the end of the 2012-13 NH season.
“If I don’t do it now, it is probably something that I will regret later on in life and 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.
“I’ve been buying young horses from France for a number of years – and been sending them to the family stud in County Wexford, who then sold some, future Cheltenham winners Al Ferof and Cheltenian to name just two.
“We’ve had great times with horses of the calibre of Kalahari King, who we bought in France to train at Wynbury.”
Even though he had a notable double on Wednesday at Kelso with Borolee and De Boitron, a chaser placed at two Cheltenham Festivals, Murphy concedes that he has reached the point where he wants to spend more time pursuing his horse breeding and dealing interests.
He derives great personal satisfaction from turning his 80-acre farm into state-of-the-art facilities suitable for both training and all other equestrian disciplines, with purpose-built stabling for 100 horses, its own gallops and a large indoor school.
In 1996, when he moved to this picturesque corner of Wensleydale, the facilities were modest, gallops in Middleham had to be shared with other trainers and his accommodation was a caravan.
“The biggest difference was having a place of my own,” said Murphy, whose stables are being sold by Bedale-based Robin Jessop.
“I’ve also been absolutely blessed to have had jockeys like Adrian Maguire, Davy Russell and Graham Lee. The way young Sam Twiston-Davies rode De Boitron at Kelso, he’ll be a champion jockey and I’ll miss seeing that happen.
“I’ll miss the crack with legends like Sue and Harvey Smith plus Peter and Mick Easterby. I grew up adoring people like that. North Yorkshire is like the west of Ireland, people are the salt of the earth but the time is right to move on.”
Murphy is no stranger to French racing. As well as winning the prestigious Royal & SunAlliance Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1998, and then the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, Murphy trained French Holly to win the Prix La Barka at Auteuil in 1999. A lasting regret is a fatal fall never allowed French Holly, “the best horse” he has trained, to fulfil his potential.
Yet Murphy will not be turning his back on British racing. He wants further Cheltenham success and he hopes Poker De Sivola, one of the horses switching to France, can win the 2014 Grand National.
A minor setback saw the staying chaser miss this year’s renewal and the fragile 2010 Cheltenham winner has only raced twice since winning the 2011 Betfred Gold Cup. “The first horse I trained in the National was Addington Boy who was fourth under Adrian,” he added.
“I thought I could win the race, but I soon got a kick up the backside and never got closer since. I still believe Poker De Sivola can be the horse to put that right.”
Sir Henry Cecil is expecting a big run from Tickled Pink after supplementing the filly for the Duke of York Clipper Logistics Stakes at Knavesmire on Wednesday.
Connections decided to stump up £7,500 to add the lightly-raced four-year-old to the Group Two field after she successfully leapt from maiden company to Pattern class in the Abernant Stakes at Newmarket last month.
Cecil said: “Tickled Pink seems in very good form and has done well physically since her win in the Abernant Stakes. She has strengthened up and all being well the plan is to head to York and I expect her to run very well.
“These sprint races are always tough but this filly has a touch of class, she stays six furlongs very well and has a good turn of foot. I wouldn’t want to swap her for anything else in the race.”
Jimmy Styles, Clive Cox’s seasoned campaigner who was runner-up to Tickled Pink at HQ, is also among the 19 confirmations for York’s six-furlong feature.
Cox has also left in Lethal Force, surprise winner of the Hungerford Stakes at Newbury last summer.
Last year’s winner, Tiddliwinks, and Bogart represent North Yorkshire handler Kevin Ryan while Eve Johnson-Houghton could try again with The Cheka, runner-up in 2012.
Jim Goldie has his speedy pair Hawkeyethenoo and Jack Dexter, while this race is an option for James Fanshawe’s Haydock Sprint Cup scorer Society Rock and the Roger Charlton-trained Mince.
Tom Hogan’s Gordon Lord Bryon and Maarek from David Nagle’s yard represent Irish interests.
Liber Nauticus, general second-favourite for the Investec Oaks, is on course to make her seasonal reappearance in the Tattersalls Musidora Stakes at York on Wednesday.
The Sir Michael Stoute-trained filly is unbeaten from one start as a juvenile, landing a mile maiden at Goodwood in September.
Peter Reynolds, managing director of owners Ballymacoll Stud, said: “She’s going to run next week in the Musidora. She’s only the winner of a maiden at the moment and I don’t think she is the most exciting at home, but she’s a lovely big filly. This looks the obvious place to go.”
Liber Nauticus trades at 11-2 with Betfred and Bet365 for the Epsom Classic, behind 3-1 market leader Moth from the Aidan O’Brien yard.
Weekend cards and returns: Pages 10 & 11.