HE is more accustomed to targeting the big handicaps at the National Hunt Festival in March – but Ferdy Murphy is confident of Cheltenham success next week.
His Festival hero Divers, an eyecatching third in last month’s Paddy Power Gold Cup, is well-handicapped to lift the Spinal Research Gold Cup on Saturday week.
The weights are headed by Poquelin on 11st 12lb. Owned by Andy Stewart who is sponsoring the handicap, the Paul Nicholls-trained chaser will have to carry 5lb more than 12 months ago when he beat Great Endeavour who went on to win this year’s Paddy Power.
“Divers is in great form. We are just hoping that there is not too much rain at Cheltenham before next weekend and we are very happy with him at the moment,” said West Witton-based Murphy who had a welcome winner at Catterick yesterday.
“We were very pleased with his run in the Paddy Power Gold Cup.
“He went there in fantastic form and had improved a lot for his seasonal return at Carlisle, but the rain made the ground a bit too tacky for him.
“Graham (Lee) said that he ran well but just emptied out on him in the last 100 yards, which we put down to the ground.
“We are going to be spot on in the weights if Poquelin takes his chance and the fresh ground of the New Course should help his cause.”
Mark Bradstock’s Hennessy hero Carruthers, meanwhile, has been given 11st 3lb in the Coral Welsh National at Chepstow on December 27.
Paul Nicholls’s Neptune Collonges, who was pulled up in the Newbury feature, heads the weights on 11st 12lb.
Synchronised carried 11st 6lb to victory last season and has the same weight this time and Jonjo O’Neill’s charge is one of four past winners who make seek further glory.
The others are Philip Hobbs’s Dream Alliance (9st 13lb), Venetia Williams’s Miko de Beauchene (10st 5lb) and the Barry Potts-trained Notre Pere (10st 12lb).
Of those prominent in the ante-post market Gordon Elliott’s Beautiful Sound has 10st, the O’Neill-trained Galaxy Rock is on 10st 11lb.
However, O’Neill has indicated that Synchronised could take on the iconic Denman in Leopardstown’s Grade One Lexus Chase over the festive period.
“He’s a great little horse. He’s not that big but he’s as genuine as they come,” said the trainer.
“He’s done very well. He’s won a Midlands National and a Welsh National with a big weight. He ran a blinder the other day over hurdles at Haydock. He may go back to Chepstow but he’s also entered in the Lexus so we could go either way.
“He’s probably not fast enough for that (the Lexus), but when it comes to really heavy ground he’d be as fast as they come. His biggest problem now is that he’s not a big horse and he’ll have to carry big weights.”
n Tom Scudamore has paid fulsome tribute to Lough Derg, the horse of a lifetime who has been retired following his latest run at Ascot.
Connections of the David Pipe-trained 11-year-old decided to call it a day after the staying hurdler was pulled up behind Overturn in the Coral Hurdle.
The gelding, owned by William Frewen, won 12 of his 61 starts and amassed £374,512 in a career spanning eight years.
Scudamore won eight races on Lough Derg, including Ascot’s Long Walk Hurdle in 2007 and back-to-back National Spirit Hurdles at Fontwell in 2009.
“He’s been a great horse and a great friend to me. I owe him an awful lot. We had some great days together and I’ll certainly miss him,” said Scudamore who credits the horse with taking his riding career to new heights.
“He was probably the toughest horse I’ve ever ridden. His constitution was outstanding and in the middle of winter he could run up to his mark week after week after week.
“He was a very tough horse that thrived on his racing. He was a great pleasure and honour to have anything to do with.
“There are lots of highlights. Winning the Grade One round Ascot, the Long Walk, was tremendous. When you thought you were beaten he kept battling back. There were times when he looked down and out and was tailed off, but went on to win from a hopeless position.
“The one race that sticks out in my mind was the day he just got beat in a handicap hurdle at Ascot (in February 2009) giving lumps of weight away.
“He just got beat off 160 by Serabad and that was comparable to Rooster Booster’s run in the Tote Gold Trophy a few years back. He got a bigger reception than the winner that day. That was very special – even though he got beat people cheered him all the way back. He was special to have around and had a big fan base.”
n Tom George has ruled Nacarat out of this weekend’s Grand Sefton Chase over the Grand National fences and he will tackle the Betfred Goals Galore Bonus Chase at Aintree instead.
The bold jumping 10-year-old won the Bowl at Liverpool in April and finished fourth on his seasonal comeback in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby. He fell over the Grand National fences in the Topham in 2008 and George has decided to stick to the Mildmay fences. Paddy Brennan rides.