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  • JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle: Strong Leader Powers To Aintree Glory For Olly Murphy

JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle: Strong Leader powers to Aintree glory for Olly Murphy

Freshness was the order of the day as Strong Leader landed a telling blow in the JRL Group Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree.

Olly Murphy’s seven-year-old had hit the frame on his first attempt at three miles in January’s Cleeve Hurdle and his handler’s decision to skip the Stayers’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival was rewarded in Liverpool as the mount of Sean Bowen produced a brilliant display.

Towards the rear in the early stages as Aintree regular Flooring Porter was disputing the lead with the evergreen Dashel Drasher and King George hero Hewick, Bowen made a notable move aboard Strong Leader heading down the back side on the second circuit, soon joining those towards the head of proceedings.

Buddy One was another to take close order rounding the bend for home, with Jack Gilligan setting sail aboard the Irish raider. But Bowen was holding on to plenty of horse and after powering his way to the front jumping the last, he galloped on to score by four and a quarter lengths at odds of 8-1.

Buddy One bravely kept on for second, with Henry de Bromhead’s Hiddenvalley Lake third, but they were never a match for Strong Leader who gave his trainer just a second Grade One victory after Itchy Feet back in February 2020.

Murphy said: “That meant an awful lot to me, I’m chuffed.

“He probably should have won the Cleeve Hurdle as he got underneath his hurdles for a mile and a half that day and I could have gone back for the Stayers’, but I’m adamant he doesn’t like Cheltenham – he doesn’t come up and down those hills well enough.

“We were ballsy enough to leave Cheltenham alone. I wanted to go there as much as anyone as I’ve never had a winner at the Festival, but we saved him for today on a flat track. He’s been good around here twice before and he just got into a rhythm today and jumped and travelled good.

“He missed the last badly, but apart from that he was good. Normally your heart is in your mouth for the last mile and a half with him, but it was just for the last two furlongs this time!

“He’s a very good horse on his day and I’m over the moon. I wear my heart on my sleeve and big winners is where you want to be.

“It’s hard work, you’re getting up early in the mornings, like everyone else who trains horses. If you don’t enjoy days like this you’re in the wrong profession.

“I love pressure because if you have pressure you’re doing well and I thrive off that, but you’ve got to deliver on the big stage. It’s taken me a while to have our second Grade One winner and I think this is the best day of my career so far.

“This lad is a homebred, the owners live 10 minutes down the road from me and they come up and rub his back themselves. He’s the most gorgeous horse you’ll ever set your eyes on and for him to be a good racehorse as well is even better.

“I wouldn’t be so sure he’ll go chasing. I might school him over fences and see, but I’d be quite happy to come back and win this race next year.

“Me and Sean are very close. He’s a friend of mine as well well as riding for me and for him to have a big winner like that is fantastic. I’m so lucky to have him as my stable jockey.”

Bowen was thrilled to hit the mark for Murphy.

He said: “It’s incredible, I can’t tell you how good it is for Olly. He’s been a while without a Grade One and he deserves all the success he gets.

“Strong Leader is a very good horse. He never puts it together to be honest, he can be a poor old jumper, but he jumped well on the whole today.

“You need these big winners to prove you can do it on the big day, so it’s massive.”

Buddy One finished fourth in the Stayers’ at Cheltenham and his trainer Paul Gilligan hailed another fine performance.

He said: “It was an absolutely fantastic run. He was given a peach of a ride by Jack (Gilligan). It is brilliant to be here, and boxing on the big stage as you are in the main arena here.

“Even though he is not in first place he is next best to it. We will look forward to going chasing with him next season, and please God that he improves for a fence.

“When he was in front you are thinking ‘don’t let anything go by you’, but hats off to Olly Murphy, and fair play to him, as he is a nice guy and well done to him, but it would have been nice if we won it.

“He is a fantastic horse. Is he going to win a Grade One over hurdles? Well he hasn’t done yet, but he is there on the premises the whole time.

“It is great for the guys that own him as they are three fantastic lads, and credit to my own family at home as they work hard.

“He is entered at Punchestown, but I would imagine that is it for the season.”

Henry de Bromhead felt Hiddenvalley Lake might have preferred more testing conditions.

He said: “He ran really well but Rachael felt a bit more give in the ground might have helped. He was also a bit keen through the race.

“It was his first run in a Grade One and is still young and will jump a fence.”

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