THEY helped Long Run to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup a year ago – and now Ferdy Murphy hopes earplugs can help his veteran stable star Kalahari King as he returns to the scene of his greatest triumph today.
Though the 11-year-old is a 20-1 outsider in the John Smith’s Melling Chase, which has attracted horses of the calibre of Nicky Henderson’s Champion Chase hero Finian’s Rainbow, Murphy hopes the earplugs will help the horse to relax.
Kalahari King has winning form at Aintree – he won a Grade One novice chase on Grand National day in 2009 – but fell in the Melling Chase in 2010 and pulled up 12 months ago after suffering a broken blood vessel.
After suffering a minor leg injury at Ascot in November, Kalahari King showed signs of his old form in last month’s Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham until he was badly hampered.
However, his work at home since then has pleased the West Witton trainer and he is hoping for a good run. “He seems in great order at home. He was running a nice race at Cheltenham until coming down the hill,” he said.
“He ran okay there and we’re happy enough with him. Obviously, the ground has slowed up a bit which will be a help.
“We will be looking at, hopefully, him running a nice race but it looks a hot race. He got that injury in November, but he is coming back, we are happy with him and his work has been good at home.
“You don’t know until you try them but I hope the earplugs will work – there’s a lot of noise at Liverpool, with the crowd and the parade, but he schooled grand with them the other morning. It’s fingers crossed.”
Noel Fehily, the horse’s Ryanair jockey, retains the ride.
While the two-and-a-half-mile trip will be no problem for Kalahari King, it will be the first time that Finian’s Rainbow has tackled this trip over fences.
However, big-race rider Barry Geraghty expects few problems. “At Cheltenham, he travelled brilliantly and came up the hill well. There was a lot of talk about the last fence being in or out but, if you ask me if there were two more fences to be jumped, it would have been the same result. He was full of running and finishing his race well,” he said.
“Two-four should suit him and he really seems to have come to himself. He was keen last year as a novice and didn’t give himself a chance to get home.
“He did too much in the Arkle, I felt he’d have won that if he’d settled better.”
Albertas Run took this race two years ago and was second behind Master Minded 12 months ago.
Jonjo O’Neill’s 11-year-old usually comes good at this time of year and was runner-up in the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham to Riverside Theatre who was pulled up in yesterday’s Betfred Bowl after an extremely lacklustre performance.
“He’s in good nick but I hope we don’t get too much rain,” said owner Trevor Hemmings’s racing manager, Michael Meagher.
Forpadydeplasterer – who narrowly beat Kalahari King in an epic Arkle Trophy in 2009 – chased home Albertas Run here two years ago and was sixth in the Ryanair last month.
He is the sole Irish-trained representative in this race after connections decided against running him in the Topham this afternoon over the fearsome National fences.
“We were considering the Topham but we thought that the two-and-a-half miles around the Mildmay course would suit him better,” said his trainer Tom Cooper.
“There was nothing going better than him between the third-last and second-last fences in the Ryanair Chase but he just didn’t get home on that occasion.
“He has run well in the Melling Chase before and returns to Aintree in super form.”