Irish trainer Ciaran Murphy has admitted that winning next week’s Randox Grand National would be “off the Richter Scale” as he prepares to saddle Enjoy D’allen, his first ever runner in the race.
Speaking at a press conference organised by The Jockey Club, the County Cork-based trainer revealed he has dreamt of winning the £1 million Aintree race for the past year.
Enjoy D’allen finished third in the 2021 Irish Grand National and has run encouragingly on all his three starts during the current campaign. After a pipe-opener over hurdles at Fairyhouse in November, he was a close third in the valuable Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.
His Aintree preparation was completed with a fine fifth in a valuable three-mile handicap hurdle back at the same venue on February 5th – following which he was purchased by leading owner J P McManus.
Murphy has been training Enjoy D’allen specifically for the race, which takes place on Saturday 9th April, and his eight year old is currently the 11-1 fourth favourite with official betting partner Betway.
And the trainer said: “We are getting very excited now. The race is getting nearer and nearer and creeping up on us nicely. We are ready to go. His form is rock solid and he is thriving. He’s only an eight year old and we are hoping there is more to come.
“We’ve made no secret of the fact that we have trained him for Aintree all year. We said we’d get him out over hurdles early this year and he ran a lovely race over two and a half miles on good ground at Fairyhouse.
“The plan was to then have him fresh for the Paddy Power to see how he’d run. We were very, very happy with how he ran in the Paddy Power – he ran a cracker. He wasn’t beaten very far and gave a lot of weight to the horses that finished in front of him.
“He then got in at the bottom of a €100,000 handicap hurdle at Leopardstown and we were thrilled with how he ran with a staying-on fifth on ground that was probably quick enough for him. We felt he didn’t need another run after that and he will go to Aintree fresh.
“Enjoy D’Allen will be our first runner in the race. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. It’s such a big occasion and I think it will only really be when we get there that we will realise what’s ahead of us.
“In the build-up to the Irish National last year, he was showing us signs that he stays really well and that he jumped exceptionally well. His run in the Irish Grand National really confirmed that as he was staying on really well at the end and we thought then that we would have a crack at Aintree next year.
“He started off with 10st 5lbs in the handicap and is now on 10st 10lbs which I think should still be fine as he will be under 11st. We knew the weights were likely to go up and it still looks a lovely racing weight and I think he’ll be well able to carry that.
“I have dreamt of this for the last year. I have the horse for the race, and I’ve been thinking of nothing else. I’m trying to picture in my mind how we get there and what we do when get there. Aintree is the goal and I’m trying to visualise the best way to approach it and get the horse there in the best fitness and as healthy as possible.
“Winning the Grand National would be off the Richter Scale – you wouldn’t dare really think of it to be honest and if it happens, I’ll tell you what it really feels like!”
Explaining how Enjoy D’allen came to be running in the famous silks of JP McManus, Murphy admitted that it was due to some forward thinking on his part.
The trainer, who is only in his second season as a licence holder, explained: “We are building our way up and this is our first horse for JP. This is where we want to be – if we can get some high-profile owners we can go to the bigger meetings.
“He was always for sale and I made the call to Frank (Berry, racing manager to McManus) and he was as excited about it, as I was. I am trying to make things happen here so I took the initiative and spoke to Frank, who said Enjoy D’allen was a horse on their radar and they were interested in him.
“I was putting my neck on the line a bit in approaching Frank but we always thought this horse was going to be made for Aintree. He is a good stayer, good jumper and loves the hustle and bustle of a big race as he showed in the Paddy Power Chase and Irish National.
“He doesn’t mind other horses touching and bumping him as he’s a tough sort. Last time out at Leopardstown, he was off the bridle the whole way but really galloped to the line. For a National, you need a horse like that, and it was lovely to be able to recommend him to Mr McManus.
“His former owners (Railway View Stud Partnership) have been good to me and had plenty of horses with me. Their business model is to sell on and they want the horse to do well for JP.”
Aintree is a unique racecourse but Murphy is hopeful that it will pose no special difficulties for Enjoy D’allen.
He continued: “We are in the process of building an Aintree-style fence and will have a couple of jumps over it this week. We come from a jumping background and I have also been chatting with Frank – we are not going to read too much into whether he will be suited by the fences.
“We’ll give him a pop over some greenery here and hopefully he’ll take to it on the day.”
Although Murphy has only had his name on the training licence at Charlestown Stud since the end of 2020, his involvement at the yard is far from new.
Murphy, a carpenter by trade who built his own house, explained: “I always had an interest in horses on the side and about 15 years ago I spent some time with Jonjo O’Neill and I then came back to Ireland and was assistant to Dot Love.
“I worked my way up and we have a nice setup here with lovely facilities. We are always trying to do something new, and this is another challenge.
“I am from a farming background with no horses involved. I am a twin – my twin brother Joseph is an event rider and rode at the London Olympics in 2012.
“We both came up through the ranks hand-in-hand – we both rode hunting and competed at 3* three-day eventing. We then went our separate ways – Joseph took the eventing seriously and I went to ride in point-to-points and then trained point-to-pointers.
“I was based with Dot Love here at Charlestown Stud (in West Meath) – I arrived here over 20 years ago and have been building up over the years as assistant to Dot. I went round a few other yards including Jonjo O’Neill’s for short periods while I was learning the trade.
“We spent a great deal of time here breaking-in and pre-training horses, including for Paul and Clare Rooney and Gigginstown House Stud. We’ve had a lot of nice horses on our hands on their way through.
“A highlight while I was working for Dot was Liberty Counsel. I rode her round at Cheltenham in the Kim Muir and then she won the Irish National (in 2013) on her next start.
“Joseph and I came from humble beginnings and have been lucky on our way up and want to achieve as much as we can. It was a nice transition taking over from Dot (at the end of 2020). I had always been very actively involved with the training and I waited for when Dot was ready to hand over as she had been here a long time.
“I was lucky to have Enjoy D’allen come along straightaway – he gave me my first couple of wins and we’ve come on steadily since then.
“We are now starting to rebuild with roughly half Flat and half Jump horses. Hopefully over time we can build up a nice team of horses in the coming years to go forward with.
“We have around 20 Flat horses, 12 to 14 of those being two year olds and 20 to 25 Jump horses. We have some point-to-point types and some older horses and horses for the summer mixed in. Hopefully, owners will see us out and about on the bigger stage and have confidence in us.”
Enjoy D’allen has raced in a variety of headgear throughout his career but Murphy is adamant this should not be taken as a sign that the horse is ungenuine.
He said: “He’s a genuine enough horse. He’ll wear a small pair of blinkers and a tongue-tie on the day. We kept those for the Irish National last year and he’ll go to Aintree with those.
“As I say it’s not that he’s not genuine, but he just loves to have a look around and the blinkers just help to keep him straight. It will be the last third of the race that he really gets going and they’ll just help hm along.
“He has been a bit of an immature horse. Peter Fahey had him before us and did a brilliant job – the horse had a string of seconds for him and that was probably because he was still immature.
“When he came to us, it all came right and I think JP and Frank saw he is a nice prospect going forward, not just for the National but for all the big staying handicaps in the future.
“In the Irish National last year, he probably hit a flat spot at just the wrong time and the winner had got away in front on a bit of a freebie with the way the ground was that day.
“Enjoy D’allen is a different horse now. He is much stronger and is physically a different horse from what he was last year.
“It’s exciting on every level for us. We are a small yard and for JP to buy into a horse like this and trust us – we are thrilled. JP likes these staying chasers to aim at these big races.”
Riding arrangements for Aintree are yet to be confirmed, although Murphy appeared to indicate that regular partner Conor Orr would hopefully keep the ride.
He continued: “I am not sure who will ride him. I’d imagine Mark Walsh will probably ride Ted’s horse Any Second Now. If he does, I’d say there is every chance Conor will stay on him - I haven’t heard any different yet.
“I wouldn’t mind seeing Conor on him as he is a very good rider. He had a real good ride at Cheltenham when third in the County Hurdle and then went on to win the Midlands National at Uttoxeter, so he is well able to perform when he’s on the right horse.
“Conor knows him and will ride the horse as he finds him. The is one way to ride the National – you jump off, get a good position and hope for the best after that. If your horse jumps, which I think he will, it gives the rider every chance.”
Reflecting on past Grand Nationals, Murphy takes great inspiration from Gordon Elliott’s first success with Silver Birch back in 2007.
He said: “I will never forget Red Marauder (successful in 2001). It was such a test of stamina that day and for a horse to be so fit and produced in that physical condition was something that really stuck in my mind.
“Gordon (Elliott) winning in 2007 with Silver Birch also really stuck with me as Gordon, like myself, came from humble beginnings and everything he has, he has done it himself.
“After that, I thought that this was something that would be possible for me to do and that has stuck in my head. No matter how big your string, it doesn’t always mean that you can just go and win an Aintree Grand National and for Gordon to achieve that with a very small string of horses at time was something that really stuck with me and was something I also wanted to try and achieve.”
As to other runners for the stable at the Randox Grand National Festival, Murphy concluded: “We also have two entries in the Fox Hunters’ Chase. We have Down The Highway who is a very nice horse. He won an open point-to-point about three weeks’ ago and was third at Gowran last time which qualified him.
“He’s not out-and-out three miler – 2m 5f or 2m 6f is more his trip so we’ve had Aintree in mind for him all year. He jumps really well.
“The other entry Michael’s Pick might not be good enough but he wants good ground and was second in the Le Touche Cup (Cross Country Chase) at Punchestown last year.
“My younger brother Aaron will ride Michael’s Pick and Timmy Love will ride Down The Highway – it will be nice for them to have a spin round over the Aintree fences and exciting for them.
“Jack Hackett is also hopefully coming over. He’s come a bit in the weights from last season and he will go for the Grade Three Red Rum Handicap Chase (2m, Thursday 7th April). He should have a nice low weight and is out-and-out two miler.”