NOEL Fehily, one of Britain’s most accomplished jump jockeys, will ride Ferdy Murphy’s Kalahari King in next week’s Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.
He is riding with supreme confidence after becoming stable jockey to Emma Lavelle – and is showing no effects from the serious wrist injury that forced Fehily to miss last year’s Cheltenham Festival.
Before suffering the injury, the jockey was deputising for Ruby Walsh at the yard of champion trainer Paul Nicholls and enjoyed two high-profile winners on the brilliant chaser Master Minded.
His second victory, in the Tingle Creek Chase, was a race in which Kalahari King – who has been placed at four successive Cheltenham Festivals – was back in seventh place.
But the 11-year-old, owned by Neil and Julie Morgan, was full of zest during a racecourse gallop at Doncaster last Saturday and Murphy believes Fehily will be an ideal substitute for Graham Lee who is recovering from a twisted hip.
“I am delighted to get him,” said the North Yorkshire-based trainer.
“He is riding fantastic at the moment and he is a top race jockey. I think he will suit the horse really well and Graham, I know, will give him all the pros and cons.”
Connections moved for Fehily once it became clear that Davy Russell, Murphy’s former stable jockey, was likely to ride the Paul Nolan-trained Noble Prince, last year’s Jewson winner, with champion jockey AP McCoy staying loyal to dual Ryanair winner Albertas Run.
Meanwhile, Kauto Star continues to make strides in his race to be primed for the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup on Friday week.
He will have a racecourse gallop after racing at Wincanton tomorrow. “Nothing major to report but we are, thankfully, still heading in the right direction,” said trainer Paul Nicholls.
In other Festival news, reigning champion Hurricane Fly is one of 12 remaining entries for Tuesday’s Stan James Champion Hurdle.
His trainer Willie Mullins has also left in Thousand Stars, fourth last year, and Zaidpour, who has gone unbeaten this season, while the aforementioned Nicholls has four of the remaining entries, headed by last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Zarkandar.
Rock On Ruby also had solid claims after being touched off in the Christmas Hurdle, while Celestial Halo and Brampour could also run.
Meanwhile, the electrifying Sprinter Sacre will face a maximum of nine rivals in the Racing Post Arkle on Tuesday
Rhys Flint, the former champion conditional jockey, defended his whip use after becoming the first high-profile rider to fall foul of the new relaxed rules.
The 20-year-old received a five- day ban after he hit Heavenstown 11 times in winning a novice hurdle at Fontwell yesterday.
An inquiry is automatically held if jump jockeys use the whip on more than eight occasions.
Heavenstown is trained by the rider’s father John and the stewards concluded that the rider had given the horse insufficient time to respond to Flint’s urgings as the horse prevailed by a diminishing neck from the Jamie Moore-ridden Ballyfoy.
“It was 11 times, but I was just trying my best and it’s a shame you’re punished for trying your best,” said Flint.
“I didn’t want to hit the horse, I put my stick down, but the other horse came to me and I was only doing what I had to win.
“I knew I was close to the limit but you have so many things to worry about and I was winning the race for my dad and the owner.
“It sucks, but there’s nothing you can do about it, and those are the rules.”
As for Moore, he gave the definite impression he would have won if allowed to use the whip more frequently – reigniting the debate about whether horses should keep a race if their jockey has broken the rules.
Niche Market has been ruled out of next month’s John Smith’s Grand National after aggravating an on leg injury.
The 11-year-old former Irish National winner ran a cracking trial for the Aintree feature when beaten just half a length in a veterans’ race at Newbury last Saturday under Ruby Walsh.