Racing: Murphy stout Maguire man

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The Independent Online
IT IS at times like this that Adrian Maguire will discover who his real friends are. If he needs someone to slice their respective palms with cold steel and swap blood Maguire need look no further than his countryman and Leyburn trainer, Ferdy Murphy.

Murphy has used Maguire ever since the young man arrived in this country with a stuffed handkerchief on the end of a pole as his only baggage. They have enjoyed great combined success, especially in the green and white colours of the owner Geoff Hubbard, and Murphy is not about to desert his old confederate.

The trainer does not believe that Maguire has fallen from his regal standards of old. If anything, he thinks the little man's talent has flourished. He can sum up the matter quite succinctly. "This whole thing about Adrian is a load of old bollocks," he said yesterday. "I think he's riding as well as he has done in recent years because now he's got the experience. He's better than ever.

"He was stable jockey to a yard which just wasn't getting the rub of the green and as soon as that happens the man in the spotlight is the one riding all the horses. Somebody has got to get the blame."

Ferdy probably knows what a good jockey looks like. He was a professional rider himself for 16 years, once the first jockey to Paddy Mullins. He likes the cut of Maguire's jib and he does not believe "the golden child" has lost any of his lustre.

"I used him early on this year on a horse called Flight For Freedom at Perth and the way he was looking for a stride 10 strides out from a hurdle on hard ground told me that this was not a man who had lost his bottle," the trainer said. "I'll be looking to use him as much as I can. He will be full up on ours if he wants to be and I'm sure he'll be riding a lot more for Jackdaws Castle now as well as Richard Johnson has a [whip] ban coming up.

"He'll ride Ardrina for me at Towcester on Thursday in the mares' race. She should win. On Saturday at Haydock I'm hoping he'll ride Ackzo for me. The horse should be good enough for the Sun Alliance [Novices' Hurdle] and I think he's really decent. Andrew Thornton told me that if he'd settled last time [when a neck second at Newcastle] he would have won 20 lengths. Now it's time to get the spondulicks back."

As well as knowing his pilots, you have to assume that Ferdy knows his vessels. He has trained the likes of Anaglog's Daughter, Sibton Abbey and Paddy's Return, but the best of them all may be the gargantuan French Holly, who destroyed Master Beveled, Dato Star and the rest in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton last week.

As we look around for great brown hopes to dethrone the mighty Istabraq in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, it may be that the home challenge will be best led by an Irish trainer and an Irish owner, Murphy and Kieran Flood. As he overlooked the white hills around Naas yesterday Murphy contemplated a scrap in the wings before the protagonists get on centre stage. French Holly and Istabraq are due to collide later this month in the rather grandly named AIG Europe Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.

Even French Holly's appearance in the race would be a fillip for his trainer. The experts have been telling him that the big lad needs a test of stamina. "If you look at the way he took the Tolworth Hurdle last season he beat all the best novices to run before Cheltenham," Murphy said. "How can they say he is a stayer when he had them all beaten down the back? He won 14 lengths.

"He will be entered in the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock - the race Dato Star won last year - but he runs in Ireland unless there is a foot of snow. They [team Istabraq] went to the AIG without much opposition last year but we should give them something to think about this time.

"I think mine is a very good horse. Istabraq is a champion and we are a challenger, and if you haven't got a serious challenger in a race you've got nothing. We're not saying we are better than he is but we'll give him a run for his money."

n Hidebound, Nicky Henderson's unbeaten novice hurdler, whose trainer says "can do just about anything except walk on water" will run in the pounds 25,000 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown on Saturday, a race won last year by French Holly on his way to Cheltenham Festival success.


Nap: Western Chief

(Folkestone 12.40)

NB: Emerald Statement

(Folkestone 1.10)