Olly Murphy is hoping to cap his great recent run with the first Grade One victory of his fledgling career when Itchy Feet runs in the Betway Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown.
Murphy came close to breaking his duck at the highest level at last year’s Cheltenham Festival when Thomas Darby, Itchy Feet and Brewin’upastorm all went close.
After a slow start to the season, when Itchy Feet was beaten over hurdles at Kempton, Murphy has sparked into life with 15 winners in January at a strike-rate approaching 40 per cent.
Itchy Feet had his attentions switched to the bigger obstacles at Leicester just after Christmas – and he strolled to victory by 26 lengths.
“He’s in great form, (and) he jumped very well at Leicester – which was a nice introduction,” said Murphy.
“Obviously this is a massive step up in grade. He was a Grade One novice hurdler though, so if he can translate that form to fences, then he should run a big race.
“He handled soft ground well at Cheltenham – (but) I just hope it’s not too holding. I think he’s been crying out for a step up in trip and we’re looking forward to running him.
“We’ve enjoyed a good few weeks and it would be lovely to top it off with a first Grade One.”
Willie Mullins’ mare Laurina is the highest-rated in Saturday’s race. A well-beaten fourth when fancied for the Champion Hurdle last year, she is on a retrieval mission after bursting a blood vessel last time out.
Assistant trainer Patrick Mullins said: “We’ve been very happy with her since Christmas.
“She obviously bled that day, and we hope it won’t happen again, but until you run them you never really know.
“She seems in very good form, and she’s won at Sandown before.
“I’m just hoping she runs a good race and comes home safe and sound. Hopefully we can get her back on track.”
Paul Nicholls fields Grand Sancy, who in two attempts over fences to date has run in a Grade One and a Grade Two – and was not disgraced in either.
Assistant trainer Harry Derham said: “He has run two really good races over fences, and has jumped well both times. Last time out, it looked like he wanted two and a half miles, so that is where we are going.
“It’s another Grade One and will be a competitive race. He is a rock-solid horse that is a good jumper, so fingers crossed he goes well.
“It just struck us when he won his good races over hurdles he did it by staying, and last time out it looked like he could never land a blow because they went so fast – so two and a half miles, we like to think, it would suit him well.”
Good Boy Bobby failed to give Mister Fisher weight at Cheltenham last time out, but the winner has scored again in graded company since.
“We think an awful lot of him,” said trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies.
“Let’s hope he can go and win. The form is great, and he’s a lovely horse.”
The Betway Contenders Hurdle has been something of a Nicky Henderson benefit race in recent years – with Binocular (twice) and Buveur D’Air (three times) monopolising it.
This year’s Seven Barrows odds-on shot is Call Me Lord – but Nicholls is taking him on with Quel Destin, who finished fourth in the Triumph Hurdle last season.
Derham said: “It is so tough for horses like him, where you are waiting a year before you go chasing. I believe the juveniles sometimes get overrated on what they achieve.
“He was just a five-year-old, giving most of them weight last time (in the Relkeel), and that makes it hard. He is a tough, hardy horse – and I’m sure he will run a good race.
“The lovely thing with this horse is he is very genuine, extremely likeable – and he will go a good gallop. He will be a tough horse to pass, and Sandown in the mud might just suit him.”
In the £100,000 Betway Heroes Handicap Hurdle, Evan Williams’ Bold Plan, the Fergal O’Brien-trained Ask Dillon, Phil Middleton’s Golan Fortune and Graeme McPherson’s Ask Ben are all prominent in the betting – along with Philip Hobbs’ Big Shark.