Divers takes the plunge in Plate
Trainer Ferdy Murphy is keeping his fingers crossed for a dry spell of weather as he prepares Divers for a return to the scene of his greatest triumph.
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The nine-year-old won the Centenary Novices' Handicap in 2011 and returned to the track to finish a creditable fourth in the Byrne Group Plate last term.
That two-mile-five-furlong heat is his target once again this term but his preparation has been far from ideal, with heavy ground limiting him to just three starts all winter.
Murphy was satisfied with his recent third at Musselburgh on good ground and believes he could be on handy mark of 135, some 7lb lower than last year.
"The Byrne Group Plate is the target for him and hopefully we'll get a bit of decent ground," said the West Witton handler.
"It's been a terrible winter and the owners were happy to wait for decent ground and prepare him for the Festival. We gave him a run at Musselburgh, which helped, and he seems to be in good form.
"He has dropped down the weights a little but he's on a nice mark now - an attractive mark, I would say - and he should get in the race off that."
De Boitron is also entered in the Grade Three heat but a largely indifferent campaign has seen him drop to a rating of 130.
Murphy may instead direct him to the three-mile JLT Specialty Chase.
"De Boitron might not get in the Byrne Group Plate but he's entered in the JLT race, too. We will look at the options nearer the time, but it may be the JLT for him," he said.
Riguez Dancer may face an uphill battle to get in the JLT, so Murphy is leaning towards the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase for amateurs.
"Riguez Dancer is entered in the JLT, but I think the Kim Muir is the race for him," he said.
"He's dropped down the weights a bit but he wants some better ground. Nico de Boinville rode him last time and got on well with him but I'd think he will be required elsewhere, so we'll probably bring an Irish amateur over for the ride."
Poker De Sivola is as low as 14-1 with Coral for the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase over the cross-country fences and Murphy is aiming to improve on his sixth place in the race two years ago.
The 10-year-old was also a winner at the Festival in 2010 when he landed the National Hunt Chase.
"Poker De Sivola is very well and fresh. He finished sixth in the race a couple of years ago, but we were using that as a prep for something else to sweeten him up," he said.
"He ran an unbelievable race in the Becher, he was right in contention until he just got tired coming to the last and James (Reveley) said he jumped really well.
"We had been looking to the Grand National with him but the handicapper dropped him 3lb for that and he won't get in this year, so this is the target.
"The plan is the cross-country race and then we'll put him away for the year and work towards the Becher in November and then, hopefully, the National. He's a classy horse, a Festival and Whitbread winner, with not much mileage on the clock."
Murphy had been hoping to send Hollo Ladies for the Coral Cup but defeat at Kempton over the weekend means he is unlikely to make the cut.
"I doubt Hollo Ladies will get in. He was unlucky at Kempton last Saturday as he got pushed so wide he was virtually on the M25," he said.
"He was unlucky the time before, too, and he needed to get to 130 to get in. We'll look towards a race at Market Rasen on March 12 and then perhaps Aintree. He's a right horse and has a good handicap in him."