Ben Linfoot chats to Colm Murphy, who will be aiming to win his first Grade One in 10 years when Impervious tackles the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse this Sunday.
Sport fans love nothing more than a comeback story and National Hunt racing lends itself well to the genre. With its champions usually unequipped for the breeding side of things all the horses have to do is race - and when they race even the very best experience the highs and the lows.
You just have to look at Kauto Star, a legend of jumps racing who baulked at talk of retirement when putting three consecutive and uncharacteristic defeats behind him in a rousing edition of the Betfair Chase in 2011.
Magnificent stuff. And you can’t talk of Kauto Star without mentioning brilliant stablemate Denman, a horse who was diagnosed with a heart murmur after beating his old rival in the 2008 Cheltenham Gold Cup. That was his ninth successive victory over fences – he was nine from nine – but he lost his next three races which culminated in a crashing fall at Aintree. Eight months later he was winning his second Hennessy off a handicap mark of 174, his own slice of legend in a golden era of staying chasers.
Sprinter Sacre, too, recovered from a miserable few years and his own heart problems to regain his crown, his unbeaten campaign in 2015-16 - including a second Champion Chase - a wonderful final chapter in a stellar career.
Slightly less dramatic, but only last weekend there was another off-the-canvas display from Lostintranslation at Ascot, as well, a horse who limped through the 2020-21 season like one who had run his last good race. He put his annus horribilis behind him last Saturday, though, winning the Grade 2 Chanelle Pharma 1965 Chase in great style.
This upcoming weekend there could be more. Maybe Paisley Park can regain the winning thread in the Ladbrokes Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury on Friday. Perhaps Epatante can rediscover her own winning touch in the Betfair Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle the following day.
Both would be good tales, but the equine comebacks could be put in the shade this weekend if Colm Murphy wins the Grade 1 BARONERACING.COM Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse on Sunday with his unbeaten mare Impervious.
Here is a man who retired from the training ranks in October 2016, citing financial difficulties after 16 years in the job. In that time he had trained Champion Hurdler Brave Inca to win 10 Grade 1s, Champion Chaser Big Zeb to win six and Quito De La Roque two. In the year he retired he was a winner at the Cheltenham Festival with Empire Of Dirt.
It was a sad day when he announced he couldn’t make it pay, but after being employed as a stewards’ secretary for a bit, as well as running a breeding and pre-training operation from County Wexford, he returned as a trainer in July 2019.
Glendruid, his first runner back, finished eighth at Cork. 21 months and 70 runners later he had his first winner second time around, when Botani won, also at Cork. It was a long road back, but the backend of 2021 has gone very well indeed. Murphy is six from 29 at 20% since June and that’s in no small part thanks to Impervious.
Three from three for her career after winning at Cork, Listowel and Down Royal, she finished with a real purpose to win the Grade 3 Irish Stallion Farms EBF Mares Novice Hurdle at the latter track on October 29 when she dropped in trip to 2m1f without much fuss.
“Absolutely,” says Murphy, when asked if Impervious is the best he’s had in his second stint as a trainer. “Touch wood she’s good, very good. We’re happy with her at home. She seems to be learning with every run and we’ve been very happy with her since Down Royal.
“Sunday is the plan now. I’d give her a hope, it’s a big step up and a big ask but fingers crossed. She seems really well in herself so it will be an exciting day.”
Murphy had been juggling options for Impervious, including Listed mares’ races at Punchestown and Thurles, but has decided to go for the Grade One, 10 years on from the last time he struck at the top level with Big Zeb in the Paddy Power Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown.
“We’re hoping for a nice run and anything else will be a bonus,” Murphy says. “It’s a big step up for her now taking on the boys in a Grade One.
“You’re hoping she’s plenty good enough. If she is good enough to keep progressing you’d like to hope she’d take us to run on the bigger days, at the festivals. That’s the dream with her.”
Murphy bought Impervious the month before he had his first runner back in the June of 2019. A €26,000 purchase from Tattersalls Ireland, he says “she was a nice big filly with a good pedigree and she was affordable, too. She was within the budget, but she was also nice-looking and very athletic.”
It’s no surprise that Murphy is more frugal than ever, given the reasons for his first retirement.
He’ll be taking on the clout of Mullins, Elliott, O’Brien and Cromwell this Sunday, but in Impervious he might just have landed on a relative bargain that can take him back to the top.
“Brave Inca won on this card but in a handicap hurdle,” Murphy says, looking back on the most brilliant horse he ever trained. Winning off a mark of 95 at this meeting in the November of 2003, he was beating that season’s Royal Bond winner, Newmill, in the Grade One Deloitte Novice Hurdle two starts later.
“He was a long time ago, a fairytale horse,” says Murphy.
Here’s hoping for another fairytale on Sunday. Then the Colm Murphy comeback will be well and truly complete.