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By Graham Clark of The Jockey Club
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Trainer Olly Murphy has revealed that Thomas Darby is being aimed at the Coral Cup, one of the nine Cheltenham Festival handicaps for which a total of 676 entries have been revealed.
Thomas Darby went close to Festival glory in 2019 when runner-up in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and, after reverting to hurdling, landed the Grade Three Holloway’s Hurdle at Ascot in January last year under top-weight. The eight-year-old posted a good effort on his most recent start when third in the rearranged Grade Two Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle at Kempton last month.
Murphy is seeking his first Cheltenham Festival winner and said: “The plan is to go for the Coral Cup with Thomas Darby, unless the Stayers’ Hurdle really cuts up and a few things happen.
“He is in good order but we decided to bypass the Rendlesham at Haydock at the weekend. How to win at fireball slot machine. A strongly run 2m 5f will really suit him, and that’s where he will go. He would be one of my main ones for the meeting.Thomas Darby was a fine second behind Klassical Dream in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle two years ago - Olly Murphy also trained third home Itchy Feet
“His owner Grahame Whateley is quite keen to run him in the Coral Cup as he has won the race before (with Diamond King in 2016). We were going to wait for Aintree, but we’ve not got many horses for Cheltenham as we have a lot of young horses.
“He ran a good race stepped up to three miles in the Cleeve behind McFabulous and, though this is slightly down in trip, it should be fine for him as it will be run at a good pace.”
Murphy also ran through his other handicap contenders at the Festival supporting WellChild.
Entries:Martin Pipe, Coral Cup
“He is in good form, though I’m not sure he really stays two and a half miles as he seems to come there well but doesn’t seem to get home. He has had plenty of problems but it has been great to get a clear run with him this season. He has been unlucky not to win a big one as he has run well in a Galway Hurdle, Greatwood and Lanzarote. He deserves to get a race like that.”
ENEMY COAST AHEAD
Entries:McCoy Contractors County Hurdle, Martin Pipe, Coral Cup
“He has been given a winter break. He has won all three of his novice hurdles since joining us, though I think his best effort was when we stepped him up to two and a half miles last time at Uttoxeter. He has multiple entries and, if he gets in, I would say we would either look at the Martin Pipe or Coral Cup. He is a horse that has to have nice ground.”
Entries:McCoy Contractors County Hurdle
“He is very fast and if we run him it will be in the County Hurdle, but I doubt he will get in off 131 so we might have to look at Aintree - that might be more his target.
“He gave himself a terrible fright over fences at Ludlow and we have given him a couple of confidence boosters in these Jumpers’ Bumper races. He will run well wherever he goes in the spring over a fast-run two miles.”
Entries:Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
“I’m not sure whether we will go for the Fred Winter (Boodles) or not. He got a terrible hike in the weights for winning at Catterick. The form of that race was franked by the runner-up winning at Market Rasen on Sunday, but I don’t know whether a massive field will suit him. He has got the entry and we will decide nearer the time if he goes.”
DUCA DE THAIX
“Duca De Thaix runs on Thursday and would have to run well to warrant going for the Grand Annual. If he runs well we might look at it as he would get in off his rating. We’ve had him 10 weeks and he has done everything nicely and he has some good Irish form, but we need to rejuvenate him for him to head to the Grand Annual.”
THE BUTCHER SAID, THE WOLF
“The Butcher Said has threatened to win a nice handicap all year. He is in good form and could run well at a big price in a race that is sponsored by his owner.
The Wolf started the season well but has had a few disappointing runs. I’m not sure whether he would run or not, though he has plenty of ability. Going forward we might fit him with some headgear to try and get him back on track.”