Racing: Cheltenham bumper Murphy's best chance

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The Independent Online

Timmy Murphy yesterday named Thisthatandtother as his best chance of riding a Cheltenham Festival winner. The Irishman was not being indecisive, he is undoubtedly keen on the strangely-named six-year-old's prospects in the Festival Bumper next Wednesday.

As No 1 rider for Paul Nicholls's powerful West Country yard, Murphy could have been expected to nominate one of his many mounts elsewhere in the three-day meeting, which starts on Tuesday. It is intriguing, then, that the 27-year-old should pick out the Nicholls runner in the meeting's only race without obstacles.

Thisthatandtother is a 12-1 shot with Corals for the Bumper. Most of those quoted at shorter odds in the race are trained in Irish yards which have monopolised the contest in recent years. But Murphy stands firm: "I've ridden top bumper horses in Ireland in the past, and my mount stands comparison. I wouldn't swap him." Thisthatandtother, who carries the famous red and white colours of Graham Roach that will always be associated with Viking Flagship, finished third on his racecourse debut at Ascot just before Christmas, before beating 17 rivals, with his head in his chest, at Wincanton four weeks ago.

Nicholls has never had a runner in the Festival Bumper before, but has been persuaded to run his charge next week because of Murphy's enthusiasm. The jockey is due to return to race-riding at Wincanton tomorrow following treatment for pulled muscles in a shoulder, sustained in a fall at Plumpton last month.

Paul Carberry has been booked for two of the leading Irish raiders at the Festival. Carberry will be on Knife Edge for Michael O'Brien in the Queen Mother Champion Chase on Wednesday and also Paddy Mullins's Tender Cove in the JCB Triumph Hurdle the following day.

Dermot Weld's Direct Bearing was confirmed as a definite runner in one of the novice hurdles at Cheltenham. On his Smurfit Champion Hurdle possible Ansar, Weld added: "Ansar is still a possible for the Champion. The owners are keen to run if it is good ground." Ansar is quoted at 40-1 for the Champion with the Tote and William Hill.

Len Lungo's Festival team has been further depleted as the cough continues to affect his Carrutherstown stable. He said: "We had intended to have eight runners but that is now down to six. The Grey Dyer half coughed, he was in the four-miler (National Hunt Chase), while Earl Sigurd will be balloted out of the Triumph Hurdle. So, fingers crossed, we are left with The Bajan Bandit (Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle), Direct Access (Royal & SunAlliance Chase), Freetown (Pertemps Final), Ebinzad (County Hurdle), Rose d'April (Weatherbys Champion Bumper) and Valigan (Kim Muir)."

Cheltenham options remain open for Barton and Turgeonev as trainer Tim Easterby is still pondering plans for his two stable stars. Barton is 4-1 second-favourite with William Hill for the Irish Independent Arkle Chase, but yesterday was one of 42 horses entered for the Cathcart Challenge Cup.

Easterby said: "The aim is the Arkle but I've put him in the Cathcart and we've yet to decide which race he will run in."

Tiutchev now looks likely to line up for the Queen Mother Champion Chase as Nicky Henderson, his trainer, said: "He will school on Thursday and work again on Saturday. It's looking increasingly likely that he might make it."