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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Stewards overreact as Timmy Murphy plays his cards late on Poker De Sivola at Sandown

At the end of the week in which the whip has been dominating the headlines, Timmy Murphy produced one of the outstanding rides of this or any other jump season to win the Bet365 Gold Cup on Poker de Sivola, but still incurred a two-day whip ban for 'excessive frequency and not giving his mount a chance to respond’. 

Stewards overreact as Timmy Murphy plays his cards late on Poker De Sivola at Sandown  
Waiting game: Timmy Murphy and Poker de Sivola (nearest camera) still have work to do as they jump the final fence in fourth place

On this occasion, however, though I dare say they went strictly by the book, it looked like a case of nit-picking by jumpy stewards, worried that they, too, were in the spotlight after Murphy, a past master of the waiting race, produced a superb tactical ride to get his enigmatic mount home by 2¼ lengths.
Murphy’s three hits before the last fence may have been in quick succession, but his use of the whip certainly did not look offensive and after the last he connected with some light flicks. This time the stewards’ action looked unnecessary and only served to add fuel to a fire that is in danger of getting out of control.
Poker de Sivola was five lengths adrift of the whole field at the Pond Fence with just over a circuit to run and trading at 95-1 on Betfair. The jockey then served up a master class to pick the field off one by one. At the Pond a circuit later, the third-last, he still had five in front of him and he only picked up his whip for the first time on the run to the last.
They landed in fourth at the last fence but collared the runner-up, Faasel, 100 yards from the line getting there, Murphy joked afterwards, “a bit too soon”. The Aintree Foxhunters winner Baby Run, who had been in the vanguard all the way, was a close third for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies and son Sam.
Afterwards Murphy, 36 and in the twilight of his career, revealed that but for winning owner David Johnson, by whom he is retained, he would have already given up riding, having registered only 32 winners this season, his lowest score since he was a conditional rider. “The rides have dried up and it’s hard to get up to drive three or four hours to ride one horse; it’s a bit demoralising” he explained. “We’ll go another season – as long as I’m riding for him.”
Johnson, previously one of jump racing’s biggest owners until hit by the recession, was openly critical of his trainers who would not let him put Murphy up but added that he hoped to have a few more horses again next season.
Last week Poker de Sivola, whose finest hour prior to yesterday was victory under Katie Walsh in the 2010 National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham, unseated Graham Lee in the Scottish National. Crucially, it was early on before they had gone a mile and both Lee and trainer Ferdy Murphy thought him fit enough and well enough to make the trip south from Middleham.
“You just never know with this horse,” said the jockey. “The times I’ve thought he’s going to win he’s run awfully and the times I’ve thought he’d run badly, he’s run well. He loves passing horses and, though it’s not politically correct to say it, your best chance on him is to go and ride him like a non-trier. With him it’s mind games.
“You can’t bully him over three miles five furlongs, you have to sit and suffer. You sit up on him, he grabs the bit and passes one, then you sit up on him and he passes another. Ferdy has done a fantastic job with him and I don’t think he’d have produced that form for many trainers.”
A P McCoy, who was presented with his 16th jockeys’ title by Denise Lewis after racing, was the only champion to get on the scoresheet at Sandown on jump racing’s last day. His ride on French Opera in the Bet365 Celebration Chase was in complete contrast to Murphy’s.
He harried the favourite Tatatiano all the way and the tactic paid off handsomely as, in a terrific finish to the race – five horses in the air together at the last – McCoy prevailed on Nicky Henderson’s chaser. That was winner was number 218 and when he returns from Fairyhouse’s Easter meeting McCoy will begin his quest for a 17th title on zero.

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