Racing: Maguire's style suits National ambitions

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The Independent Online

Of all the races in the turf calendar, the Grand National is the most draining. At the unveiling of the weights at least.

Trainers, connections and the thirsty press will gather at the Savoy Hotel in London tomorrow to ascertain the official figures for the horses which will be sent on their way at Aintree on 6 April.

It will be a demanding afternoon, tomorrow that is, and, in great National tradition, there is every chance that an old plodder will have as much chance of staying on his feet as the supposed high-achieving representatives, at the time when the cabs are called.

The National weights lunch is an arithmetical exercise which will, this year, be of particular interest to Ferdy Murphy, as the Leyburn trainer has a multiple entry, at least two of whom you can imagine with a microphone under their snouts.

Streamstown, the winner of Saturday's Grand National Trial at Uttoxeter, has already proved that he can push on with blood in his boots. Paris Pike may suggest in this Saturday's Aon Chase at Newbury that he too has the visceral qualities which Aintree demands.

For now there is one definite and a probable depending on the impending action. "Streamstown will probably go there anyway and Paris Pike will depend on how he goes on Saturday in the Aon," Murphy said yesterday.

Much will be drawn from how great a weight with which either horse is burdened by Phil Smith, the British Horseracing Board handicapper. According to Murphy, there was no greater man using oxygen on the planet over the weekend.

"Phil Smith is fair and a fantastic handicapper," he said. "I spoke to him at Uttoxeter yesterday and he said there were 12 Gold Cup entries in the National. Surely one or two of them would turn up and compress the weights right down.

"Streamstown might barely creep in and that would suit me right down to the ground."

It also suits Murphy to have Adrian Maguire as his stable jockey. His fellow Irishman may have had his peaks and troughs in public perception, but, for the trainer, the line has always followed the top of the Andes.

On a Uttoxeter run-in extended by the omission of the last fence, Maguire appeared to be at the effective best he first showed us when he was born as the "Golden Child" around a decade ago. There was great power in the way he propelled Streamstown home, but it was not a quality achieved at the expense of style. It seemed rather harsh when Maguire was punished with a two-day suspension for repetitive use of the whip.

Murphy thought the suspension unjust, especially as Maguire had planned to build the race to a crescendo. "That's the cruel part of it." he said. "A lot of jockeys go down to the second last and empty the horse out there, but Adrian never does that. He always keeps a bit. So they never get as hard a race as it looks.

"He rides those races fantastically, he's a great man for a staying chaser. He's never in a hurry and he picks the right time to get into a race.

"When he goes for it after the last he does go for maximum effort but there is gas left in the tank. That was the classic case yesterday because Adrian had kept a little bit up his sleeve. Of the two, I would say mine had had the easier race."

There will be no easy races at the Dorchester tomorrow, but those who approach Murphy with criticism of his stable jockey will have strife aplenty. Those at Wynbury stables know of the brickbats and remain bemused.

"It's unbelievable," Murphy said. "Adrian has his own way of riding horses and I never interfere with him and why shouldn't I listen to someone of his experience.

"What people don't pick up on is that after McCoy and Scudamore and Dunwoody he is the fastest to ride 1,000 winners. He was the only one that wasn't supported all the time by [Martin] Pipe. But then whether it's soccer or racing you have a lot of barstool commentators."

Ferdy Murphy better get used to it. In 24 hours time, in one of the capital's most prestigious watering holes, he will be getting heaps of beery opinions which he will immediately consign to his mental dustbin.