Based just outside Stratford-upon-Avon, it’s been a frenetic start to life as a National Hunt trainer for Olly Murphy.
The 29-year-old is already a Grade One-winning chief, despite being less than four full years into the role as boss of his Warren Chase yard. Itchy Feet’s win in the Scilly Isles at Sandown Park in February 2020 exacted the proof of progress that Murphy has overseen in his short tenure to date.
The unseating’s of Brewin’upastorm and the aforementioned Itchy Feet a month later, however, will have left a stone unturned as the Cheltenham Festival nears ever closer.
A 2-3 in the 2019 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle were about as good as a result as you can have at the Prestbury Park showcase without actually getting a winner on the board.
But the Warwickshire trainer heads to the toe of Cleeve Hill in less than two weeks’ time with more representatives than the two lots of trios he’s had fighting out of Wilmcote in the previous two renewals. After enjoying over 250 winners thus far, a single Cheltenham Festival winner would almost taste as sweet as the biggest week in National Hunt fast approaches.
Olly answered a series of questions about his life in racing and hopes for the 2021 Cheltenham Festival.
What’s your single most enjoyable moment as a trainer so far?
Training my first Grade One winner at Sandown. It was an unbelievable day and something I’d always dreamt of doing, and having my best mate, assistant trainer and parents there was really special. Hopefully, it’s the first of many.
Is there a course you enjoy visiting the most or perhaps always seem to fare well the most with runners?
The feeling of walking through the gates at Cheltenham when you’ve got chances is second to none, but Warwick and Stratford are my two local tracks, and they both have their uniqueness. They’re great, fun courses and I’ve been fairly lucky at both. I also love Market Rasen, a very fair track. I’m well looked after there by the racecourse and I seem to get a bit of luck there as well.
Outside of racing, is there anything you do to enjoy your free-time?
I’m a massive Aston Villa fan so unfortunately haven’t been able to attend this year, but I love going to Villa Park in the evening. I find it easy to switch off and it’s the one time I can leave my mobile phone on silent! I also enjoy my golf in the summer when the weather is good.
The stands will be empty, but many will be watching around the world; how are the nerves ahead of this year’s Cheltenham Festival?
I’m looking forward to it. I haven’t got the strongest team as I’d like and this year I have a lot of young horses that probably aren’t mentally ready to be visiting a Festival. The likes of Thomas Darby, Strong Glance and Allavina can hopefully go well with small each-way chances, and you’re just hoping one will click.
Warren Chase has enjoyed another successful campaign with 50+ winners so far, but do you feel that the Cheltenham Festival determines and judges the entire year?
Yes and no. It’s the pinnacle of our sport and you can have a bad year and then have a winner in Cheltenham, and it’s suddenly a great year. There’s a big Festival at Aintree as well and I’m certainly not someone to have a social when we’re at Cheltenham, so you won’t see me having a lot of runners without a chance. Yes – everything circles around the Festival, but you can also have a great year without having a winner there.
Thomas Darby is 20-1 for the Coral Cup. He’s been given top-weight by the handicapper, but do you still feel that previous Cheltenham form gives him a chance of going well?
It’ll be a fairly condensed handicap, I’d say. There will likely only be 12lbs from top to bottom. Yes, I’d love to have 7lbs off his back and be in the middle of the handicap but he’s a high-class horse. He is a graded horse running in this sphere, hence why he’s carrying top weight, and hopefully, with a bit of luck in running, he can go well.
Are there any other representatives from the yard who you feel are being overlooked and can run well under the radar?
I thought Allavina could run well in the Mares’ Novice Hurdle. She bolted up on her last start in Taunton and will enjoy a fast run race like this. She’s 20-1 and I think she could outrun her odds.
Which race are you most excited for at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival?
I’m looking forward to watching the Gold Cup. It’s the biggest race in the calendar and looks like it’ll be another top quality renewal.
If you could train a horse from another yard, who would it be?
Shishkin. I think he is a monster and could be the next Sprinter Sacre in time.
Sum up the Cheltenham Festival in one word…