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Wilmcote trainer Olly Murphy targeting first Cheltenham Festival winner

THERE may be no fans at this year’s Cheltenham Festival because of the pandemic, but the excitement surrounding the major event is something Wilmcote trainer Olly Murphy can’t escape.

Wilmcote trainer Olly Murphy with Cheltenham Festival prospect Thomas Darby. Photo: Mark Williamson W9/3/21/3542
Wilmcote trainer Olly Murphy with Cheltenham Festival prospect Thomas Darby. Photo: Mark Williamson W9/3/21/3542

This year’s festival, which runs from Tuesday, 16th March to Friday, 19th March, will be a much quieter affair without the thousands of spectators who descend on Prestbury Park every year.

Although the pandemic has put paid to that for 2021, Murphy told the Herald there’s still plenty of excitement leading up to the four days of top-class racing.

“I love the whole build-up to it,” he said. “It’s slightly different now because I’m a trainer as there’s more pressure involved than there used to be, but I still love the buzz surrounding Cheltenham.

“With me living local to Cheltenham, it’s always good to go down to Stratford on the Monday and hopefully have a winner there to get the week off to a good start and then go down to Cheltenham for four days with all the National Hunt enthusiasts, trainers and owners.

“Yes, it’s going to be a little bit different this year without fans, but I think a lot of trainers and owners have now got used to there not being any big crowds on those big days where there’s Grade 1 races. Hopefully in 2022 we can get back to normal and back at Cheltenham as we all know and love it.”

Murphy is on the hunt for his first Cheltenham Festival winner and leading his charges this year is Thomas Darby.

The eight-year-old, who came second in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) in 2019 and won a maiden hurdle at the course in 2018, has been lined up for Wednesday’s Coral Cup.

“Thomas Darby is a horse that jumps and travels and will have a decent chance in that race,” said Murphy.

“It’s obviously a very competitive handicap but I think the track and trip will suit him really well.

"He will certainly be doing his best work late on, which is what you want at Cheltenham, and he’ll definitely have a good each-way chance.”

Another one for Herald readers to look out for this year is Allavina, who has been entered in Thursday’s Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

“Allavina was a good winner of a race at Taunton two weeks ago where she had a 16lb rise, so the handicapper believes she’s well above average and is another horse with a decent each-way chance,” said Murphy.

“She jumps and travels really nicely and I think she’s second or third in the betting in terms of the English horses, so she’s definitely got a chance.”

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