Thunder Rock has "lively" chance in Scilly Isles, says Murphy

Tue 31 Jan 2023
 (Photo: Mark Cranham /
(Photo: Mark Cranham /

Olly Murphy admits that he is ‘itching’ for the second Grade One success of his career and believes Thunder Rock holds a ‘lively chance’ of securing it next weekend in the Virgin Bet Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase at Sandown Park.

It is three years since the Wilmcote handler - now in his sixth season training - celebrated his inaugural top-level success and in the same Sandown prize with stable stalwart Itchy Feet.

Having gone close to adding to that tally on several occasions since, Murphy hopes the gelded son of Shirocco can now end his wait by bouncing back to form on Saturday.

After winning his first two starts over fences the seven-year-old, who is owned by the McNeill Family and Ian Dale, saw his unbeaten record over the larger obstacles ended in the Grade Two Paddy Power Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day.

Despite entering the race on the back of a defeat Murphy is confident Thunder Rock will be well suited to the demands of his latest assignment.

He said: “The plan of action is to run Thunder Rock at Sandown on Saturday. He just didn’t jump and travel with the same kind of enthusiasm that we saw in his first two starts over fences at Cheltenham last time.

“Whether he got caught out around the track going a good gallop over the extended two and a half miles I don’t know, but I know that he is better than that run.

“On first reflections I was disappointed but he has probably run well given the circumstances as he was still only beaten a couple of lengths. My personal opinion is that if he went through the race better he would have won the Dipper.

Thunder Rock ran on to pleasing effect behind Festival fancy The Real Whacker on New Year's Day

“Sandown should suit him well and I’m looking forward to running him as it has been his long term target.

“His jumping is, touch wood, not an issue and I don’t think the track will be a problem. He came back out of his last race fine and hopefully he has learnt plenty from it.

“I’m itching to get my second Grade One winner and hopefully this lad has a lively chance of getting it.”

While well held on his only point-to-point start Thunder Rock has proven somewhat of a shrewd purchase after winning seven of his 11 starts under rules having come highly recommended to Murphy by Cheltenham Festival-winning rider Derek O’Connor.

Murphy said: “He is a very straightforward horse to train that was purchased relatively cheaply out of the Doncaster sales having finished a remote second in a point-to-point.

“He was recommended to me by Derek O’Connor and I got him on spec. He had no owner and then Max (McNeil) came in for him. It is funny how things work out and he is now a 150-rated chaser.

“He has won a bumper, four hurdles and two chase races and his career is only just getting going. He is a lovely horse that is giving his owners Max McNeil and Ian Dale lots of enjoyment.”

Although looking forward to seeing how Thunder Rock gets on at the weekend the victory of Itchy Feet in the 2020 renewal of the race still holds a prominent place in the mind of Murphy.

He added: “It was obviously a great day winning the race with Itchy Feet and these are the races you want to be winning as a trainer, especially as a young trainer like myself.

“Itchy Feet was obviously a very good horse over hurdles and he won at odds-on at Leicester over Christmas. I then took the bull by the horns and went straight for this.

“He got in a great rhythm that day and he jumped the Pond Fence like he had just joined in.

“It was a great day as I was not long into my training career but it shows just how hard it is to win at this level.”

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