Weekend Racing Blog: Oisin Murphy Returns / Cheltenham Going

Oisin Murphy Returns From Drugs Ban

Image credit – Alan Crowhurst / Stringer / Getty Images

Murphy’s Back

Champion flat jockey Oisin Murphy returns to action this weekend. He’s been side-lined by a three-month drug ban which he categorically denied at the outset.

Finding a compromise with the French authorities which originally gave him a six month ban, he later explained how he had sexual intercourse with a Class A drug user the night before his damning test and this was the reason why he returned a positive result.

Who said life as a jockey is boring and is all about early nights, early mornings and hours of boring travelling? Anyway, the young Irishman travels to Lingfield on Friday for three mounts and he has a great book of rides at Chelmsford on Saturday night.

One standout mount is Ranch Hand for his mentor Andrew Balding in the 6.50pm contest. It’s an All-Weather Championships Fast-Track Qualifier, the type of race Balding loves to target. Murphy has a great win record on this five-year-old and despite shouldering top-weight, he’s a strong fancy.

Sweet Time for Marquand in Australia

Another jockey which has been on the missing list is Tom Marquand. He’s was actually cooped-up in an Australian hotel room observing quarantine rules. But he now on the loose and, as he did last year, running riot on the Australian racing scene.

In the early hours of Saturday he has a good chance of claiming the Group 1 Coolmore Classic aboard Sweet Deal. You can watch this race live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky Channel 415) at 5.15am and if doing so maybe give this one an each-way play.

12/1 is available in the early betting and with this race being a favourite’s graveyard plus Sweet Deal coming from an advantageous barrier (starting gate) 2, its not impossible to see Marquand getting a place-paying payday from his mount.

Flowers for Oprah

The Cheltenham Festival is just a few days away and, ironically, that will take the spotlight away from Gordon Elliott and his deplorable photo expose.

But the headline grabbing story has already slipped from the forefront of people’s minds as the gossip mongers are now engrossed with Harry, Meghan, and ‘that interview’.

I’m not into conspiracy theories but did the Irish handler send Oprah a big bouquet of flowers? If he didn’t I suggest he did as this story has certainly taken the heat off of him.

Good to Soft Ground Forecast for Cheltenham

Can you believe Cheltenham has not staged a meeting for three months? It’s true, with its last two meetings cancelled, December 11th was the last time the track featured horses racing.

We may have Covid but we don’t have high winds forecast – the last thing which led to a Festival race day being cancelled – and thankfully Foot & Mouth disease has not been since it wrote off the entire 2001 Festival.

There may not be high winds but plenty of water is set to land on Prestbury Park between now and the Day 1 of Festival. Resultantly the clerk of the course has stated he is optimistic of getting his wish of the “ground being on the easy side of good, or good to soft.”

And there is good news for race fans too. The six-day Cheltenham declarations which encompass the first day of the Festival did not deliver any surprises with all leading fancies holding their ground. At this point there are 14 in the Champion Hurdle and 12 left in the Arkle.

Is Another Imperial Cup / Festival Double in the Pipeline?

Back at home, Sandown’s Saturday card features the Paddy Power Imperial Cup, a handicap hurdle over two miles. The winner this race will once again be in line for a bumper £50,000 bonus if they can go on to claim victory at the Cheltenham Festival 2021.

Only three horses have won the bonus for this ‘double’ before. They are Olympian (1993), Blowing Wind (1998) and Gaspara (2007). All three horses were trained by the Pipe family.

And so be sure to look out for their representatives this weekend. They have three in the race: Leoncavallo and Eamon An Cnoic. Leoncavallo is 15/2 with bet365* and Eamon An Cnoic 11/1 with bet365*  but aged 9 and 10 respectively it has to be unlikely they have been laid out for these races.

* Horse racing odds correct at the time of article publication. All odds are subject to change.