28 November 2004

Two hundred years ago the great Samuel Chifney published his autobiography modestly entitled `Genius Genuine’. In it he ascribed his talents to using the reins “like a thread of silk.” It was a bit like that when Timmy Murphy won the Hennessy Gold Cup and three other races here yesterday.

Samuel Chifney’s career had its ups and downs, most notably when he got the Prince Regent warned off for stopping one of the royal horses at Newmarket. Timmy Murphy has had to deal with his own demons but at present is on the sort of wave a surfer would wait a lifetime for. To ride four winners including the big race on Paddy Power day at Cheltenham two weeks ago could be classed as fortunate, and to do the same thing on Hennessy day is getting precious close to the genius about which old Sam boasted.

Fittingly it was the ride on his Paddy Power partner Celestial Gold to win the Hennessy that most perfectly fitted the “silken thread” ideal. For Celestial Gold has something close to a volcano between the ears. “At home,” says trainer Martin Pipe’s son David, “you would say he was not a very nice person. One lad, Tim Eades rides him every day. In a race you have to be very quiet on him. Timmy was just perfect.”

Beforehand you could almost sense the smoke coming out of Celestial Gold’s ears. Murphy had him led away from the others after the parade and then proceeded to the start at the most cautious of hack canters evidently anxious not to test the brakes. These included both a ring bit and a cross-noseband and one was entitled to imagine that the jockey’s arms would be stretched to their limits as the 14-strong field hustled off on their 21-fence, three and a quarter mile journey.

What happened was scarcely believable. True, there was a real attack to the gallop set by Ollie Magern, Midland Flame and the grey Lord Transcend, but Murphy was not heaving at the reins, he had them loose on Celestial Gold’s already sweating neck. “If you throw the lot at him, he relaxes,” was the rider’s comment afterwards. It was said at the end of a long day without a trace of swank. It was one of the greatest understatements of achievement ever spoken.

For as Celestial Gold settled at the back of the field, it was obvious that not an ounce of energy was being wasted as he flicked easily over the fences. Coming to the final fence of the first circuit, with the hard-pulling Ollie Magern, Lord Transcend and Gunther Mcbride still pressing the pace, Murphy was an upright, poised figure with the reins hanging loosely.

All the way down the back straight Murphy inched his way closer to the leaders. Swinging down into the straight he was fifth along the inside. At the second last Lord Transcend began to weaken, having made a heroic effort on only his second run over fences. Royal Auclair loomed up on the outside to challenge Ollie Magern and Murphy finally grabbed Celestial Gold and asked him to run.

Even then there was more silk thread than shotgun about the way he set the horse about his business. Coming to the last right in front of us, Murphy was leaning forward, the reins loose. Celestial Gold responded, put in a brilliant leap and landed a length up on Ollie Magern which was never conceded on the long duel to the line.

Celestial Gold was completing a Cheltenham-Newbury double last achieved by Bright Highway back in 1980. He is an admirable horse but he was only carrying 10st 5lb yesterday. He will win many more races but the Grand National rather than the Gold Cup looks like being the ultimate.

For the jockey, all peaks are at present possible. To watch Timmy Murphy yesterday was a collector’s pleasure. He cruised up in the first to land Marcel’s seventh win in a row and then stole the second when Carl Llewellyn played it too safe on the odds-on favourite Fundamentalist at the last.

As Vodka Bleu and his jockey went past the post still a length and a half ahead, Murphy suddenly brought his whip up in a quick three-strike triumphant flourish. As with Marcel beforehand and Celestial Gold afterwards, Vodka Bleu carried the blue and green livery of David Johnson with whom Murphy had shared that epic four-timer at Cheltenham a fortnight ago. Back then there was still a figment of doubt as to how well the jockey would adapt to the pressures Johnson, and more especially the perfectionist Martin Pipe bring to bear. There is no doubt now.

Back then there was still the suggestion that the spectre of Tony McCoy hung about the Murphy feast. But yesterday closed with a poignantly unhappy postscript to the champion jockey’s dilemma as he battles to make the best of his new association with Jonjo O’Neill.

A table-topping 113 winners already is no mean haul for the season but the big winners continue to escape. In the last McCoy rode O’Neill’s Exotic Dancer hard in pursuit of Murphy on the old Flat racer Distant Prospect at the final flight. Distant Prospect winged it. Exotic Dancer came crashing down.

It was nearly dark, but you could almost see the curses oathing from McCoy. As for Murphy, genius is a dangerous word, but something very special was flashing out there in the gloom.

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