Murphy calls for more meetings to soften blow from harsh winter

FERDY Murphy's plea for every Northern racecourse to stage an additional National Hunt fixture, to compensate for the raft of abandoned fixtures during the big freeze, is likely to be ignored by the racing industry as jumping action finally resumes in Yorkshire today.

Now that courses are raceable following the thaw, the British Horseracing Authority has no current plans to stage any extra meetings – it did, however, sanction Monday's card at Towcester – and racecourses appear to have few plans of their own.

The West Witton handler made his call as Doncaster prepares, incredibly, to stage its first NH meeting of the 2010-11 season today. There has been no racing on Town Hall since early November when Paul Hanagan won an historic Flat title.

Doncaster has lost two fixtures while, further up the A1, Wetherby abandoned three meetings – including its Christmas double-header.

Likewise, Catterick has also been forced to call time on three fixtures. Its only meeting this season was on December 14, the last time there was racing in the county, though the North Yorkshire track has a meeting scheduled for tomorrow.

Though the eight cancellations compare favourably, at present, with the nine cancellations of last winter, Murphy is not prepared to stand idly by – even though he managed to persuade the BHA to stage three NH 'bumper' meetings on Southwell's all-weather surface.

In an industry that is bedevilled by falling prize money, he says owners and jockeys are missing out on vital opportunities to run horses because of the sport's bias towards the south.

"The issue is simple, If every racecourse in the North staged an additional meeting, it would help compensate the owners, the jockeys and everyone who has missed out," he said.

"We've had two bad winters, we've been out through the night just keeping our gallops open, and we need the races. If the problems were just in the South, it would have been sorted. But it's not – and, once again, we are the poor relation.

"It's not just the BHA who need to be looking at this; the racecourses need to be proactive and realise that they're getting increased money from the selling of media rights to the bookmakers."

Yet, while Wetherby chief executive Jonjo Sanderson was sympathetic to Murphy's plea ahead of this Saturday's meeting at the West Yorkshire track, he says the BHA are unlikely to sanction extra meetings now that racing has resumed. He says these are only an option when one part of the country is raceable, and the other is not.

"You can overflood the Levy, in terms of prize money, and that has a negative impact on the sport," he says.

Equally, Doncaster's managing director Mark Spicer says the fixture list has to be looked in the whole and says his course is funding two additional fixtures this year, one of which will feature NH action.

He admits the course has lost "tens of thousands" through the cancellation of two pre-Christmas race days and businesses pulling the plug on corporate events being aborted because of the snow.

Realistically, he says, the Doncaster track is only raceable now – and the groundstaff will need time to replace the divots, and such like, ahead of the planned two-day meeting at the end of the month.

Brian Ellison will give his impressive Finale Juvenile Hurdle winner Marsh Warbler an entry in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at Cheltenham.

The youngster had won two of his first three starts over timber and handled the step up in grade with aplomb.

His victory, which came on very soft ground, shot him towards the head of the Triumph Hurdle market but Malton-based Ellison is also considering the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle as the ground is likely to be at its softest for the first race of the Festival.

"You wouldn't think he'd had a race, it took nothing out of him," said Ellison.

Time For Rupert is bang on course for the Argento Chase at Cheltenham on January 29 after coming through his latest exercise in fine form.

The RSA Chase favourite has also been entered for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and his trainer Paul Webber admits he will find out a lot more about last year's World Hurdle runner-up when he runs against more experienced horses. Webber's seven-year-old has won both his starts over fences in the style of a natural and is as low as 5-2 with some bookmakers for the novice event.

"He's on course for the Argento Chase in which he'll meet more experienced chasers. That race should tell us a lot," said Webber.