John Murphy dreaming of Derby delight with White Birch
John Murphy is feeling a mixture of nerves and excitement as he prepares White Birch for a tilt at Betfred Derby glory at Epsom on Saturday week.
The veteran trainer has had plenty of high-class performers pass through his hands over the years, perhaps most notably the 2006 Queen Mother Champion Chase hero Newmill.
Murphy considers Tuscan Evening, who was beaten just a head into fourth place in the Irish 1,000 Guineas in 2008, as his best Flat horse to date, and admits finding a horse capable of competing in the world’s most famous Flat race is something dreams are made of.
He said: “It’s a lot of people’s dream and it’s our dream. We just got lucky, the owners agreed to buy the horse and we’re delighted.
“It’s exciting, absolutely. We’re looking forward to it. It’s huge for us, definitely, we’re excited and apprehensive.”
After finishing fifth as an 80-1 shot on his racecourse debut at Naas in November, White Birch opened his account with a wide-margin win on the all-weather at Dundalk before being given a winter break.
The Ulysses colt may have been a surprise winner of a heavy ground Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown on his three-year-old debut, but he proved there was no fluke about that victory when powering home to be beaten just a head by The Foxes on much quicker ground in last week’s Dante Stakes at York.
Murphy added: “We had a very good filly called Tuscan Evening. It was a long time ago, but she was very high class from the start.
“This guy had a run in a maiden at Naas, it was a lovely start, he did it easily in Dundalk and there was no place to go really other than take a step further (in the Ballysax). We were confident going into it that he would run really well.”
Reflecting on the decision to send his charge to what is widely considered as Britain’s leading Derby trial, he said: “It was very soft in Ireland, we didn’t want to run him again on heavy and we hoped there’d be better ground in York, so that’s what we did.
“We were very happy with how he ran. He was a bit unlucky at the start, he just kind of fly-leapt out of the stalls and lost at least a length. Everything counts at that level.
“It wasn’t the plan to track them all, but he stayed on well and finished the race really strong.”
He has a great mind, he's sound and has all the qualities you need in a good horse
Like most of the horses in the Derby field, White Birch will need to prove his stamina for a mile and a half and his ability to handle the idiosyncratic nature of the Epsom track.
Murphy is not overly concerned about either variable, adding: “We’ve been delighted with him since York, no issues. It looked like he stays, but I don’t think anybody can answer that question.
“We have a lot of undulating gallops and he’s a balanced horse who can travel. Every day you go to war it’s a concern, but he’s a good traveller, which is very important in the Derby.
“He has a great mind, he’s sound and has all the qualities you need in a good horse.”
Another question mark hanging over White Birch is who will ride him on the big day.
Shane Foley was in the saddle at Leopardstown and York, but he looks set to partner Leopardstown Derby Trial winner Sprewell for his boss Jessica Harrington, leaving Murphy to consider his options.
He said: “It’s in the air still, we’re undecided.
“There’s a few options and nine days is a long time for all of us. You never know who is going to drop out and who is going to become available, so we’ll take a few more days before we make that decision.”
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