Racing: Murphy has Holly primed

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THERE ARE two prime attractions in listening to the words of Ferdy Murphy when it comes to the Cheltenham Festival and the prospects of his Champion Hurdle hope, French Holly. The first is that, desperately seeking an alternative to the even-money Champion favourite Istabraq, punters are clinging to the hope that when Murphy says that French Holly is "absolutely bombing", as he did yesterday, he is not overstating the case. The second attraction is that, given his remarkable record at the Festival, Murphy's judgement is probably spot on.

French Holly, an attractive each-way shot for the Champion at 7-1 with William Hill, is due for a pre-Festival confrontation with Istabraq in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown in 10 days' time, a race that could alter the complexion of the Cheltenham betting dramatically.

"He's just done a bit of work this morning and he's absolutely bombing," Murphy said of the towering gelding on whom Adrian Maguire will step in for the injured Andrew Thornton. "He'll just do a couple of bits before he goes over to Leopardstown."

Murphy's record at the Cheltenham Festival extends beyond the three winners - Stop The Waller and Paddy's Return in 1996 and French Holly in last year's Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle - which he has posted with his own name beside them on the racecard. He was the man in the stable behind the 1980 Arkle Trophy success of Bill Durkan's Anaglogs Daughter and the 1987 Mildmay of Flete triumph of Geoff Hubbard's Gee-A.

At the 1999 Festival, Murphy could also have his first runner in the Gold Cup with Addington Boy, who has been sent to him from the Nicky Richards stable.

The winner of the 1996 Tripleprint Gold Cup at Cheltenham for the late Gordon Richards, Addington Boy has been below par for the past two seasons and was moved to Murphy after falling when in touch in the latest renewal of the Tripleprint last month.

"The plan is that he goes to Leopardstown for the Hennessy Gold Cup on 7 February, and then for the Gold Cup," Murphy said. "The horse had gone a bit stale. He had been very impressive but got a kick in the paddock at Greystoke and was never the same.

"But I love him. I ride him out all the time and he is a grand Christian of a horse. Adrian Maguire is coming up to school him on Sunday, and will ride him at Leopardstown.

"I hope we get good ground at Leopardstown. While I don't think he is good enough to trouble the principals, I want him to do a nice round. If we got good ground at Cheltenham, I think he'd run a nice race."

Get Real was yesterday the subject of support for tomorrow's Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot and is 11-4 from 3-1 with Coral. William Hill have cut Irish challenger Hill Society, from 11-2 to 5-1, and Cumbrian Challenge from 10-1 to 8-1.