Murphy is mad. He believes the Jockey Club are on his case, particularly after he picked up a seven-day suspension for a non-trying offence at Ludlow on Wednesday. Now he has to ride two horses who have to be ridden as if theirs is just a casual interest in a race.
"The best way with some horses is to con or trick them," Murphy said. "Force will never work. Celestial Gold, for example, is a very sensitive horse. You'd only have to lower yourself a little bit in the saddle and half a length would be there. You have to sit very still and get him relaxed, otherwise he would be too keen and he'd never last home." Celestial Gold's is an intriguing race, not least for the fact that, as well as him, the contest features two other Hennessy Gold Cup winners in Strong Flow and Gingembre. The great imponderable is the pace. The lack of an obvious front-runner counts against Celestial Gold and the Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up, Sir Rembrandt. Strong Flow (2.25), the mount of Ruby Walsh, may sneak by them.
The day's money race is the Totesport Trophy Hurdle, for which the progressive Essex, winner of last month's Pierse Hurdle, is the favourite.
"The race has been the plan for a while, and although he has got a good bit of weight, there is nothing you can do about it," Michael O'Brien, trainer of the Irish horse, said yesterday. "I am a bit concerned about his weight, but I'm still quite confident. Barry [Geraghty] gets on well with him, and the conditions will be no problem."
The key clue to this race though appears to have been a Listed Sandown handicap hurdle last month, in which Rooster Booster's recent conqueror, Self Defense, finished second. Tamarinbleu won for Martin Pipe that day, but even more interesting is the Nicholashayne trainer's DESERT AIR (nap 3.00), who finished fourth at Esher. He now has a turnaround in the weights and will compete at odds of great largesse.
In the Game Spirit, Murphy's Well Chief (3.35) has to contend with Azertyuiop, who finished a short-head in front of him in the retinue behind Moscow Flyer in the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown in December. Yet Well Chief seems to have progressed since then judged on his recent success in the Victor Chandler Chase at Cheltenham two weeks ago, a victory achieved off a mark of 176, the highest since Desert Orchid collected the 1990 Racing Post Chase.
Hardy Eustace, the Champion Hurdler, completes the preparation for the retention of his crown at Gowran Park this afternoon, but the more competitive Irish fare is available in Co Meath at Navan tomorrow.
Solerina steps up to three miles for just the second time in her career when she tackles the Boyne Hurdle, on a track where she has won four times from five visits. Her only run over the distance though has been at Cheltenham, where she was fourth in last year's Stayers' Hurdle. "There are two ways of looking at it," Michael Bowe, son and assistant to trainer James, said yesterday. "The negative way would be to say that she did not stay at Cheltenham, so will not stay again. The positive would be that this is her favourite track and she is not going to have horses like Baracouda to worry about."
While others have dropped into the gutter, Ulaan Baatar has become favourite for the Irish Independent Arkle Trophy almost by default. Jessica Harrington's gelding posted a lifetime best at Leopardstown on his most recent outing and now aims to build on that in the Flyingbolt Novice Chase.
"It was only his second run over fences last time and I suppose he could make a mistake, but he has been foot-perfect so far," the trainer said yesterday.
Nap: Desert Air