Ground key to Nicholls stars’ Exeter workout

Leading Cheltenham contenders Big Buck’s and Silviniaco Conti could enjoy a workout after racing at Exeter on Friday, if the ground is suitable.

Ground key to Nicholls stars’ Exeter workout

Trainer Paul Nicholls is keen to work the pair, who are set to contest the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup respectively next month.

Four-times World Hurdle winner Big Buck’s returned to action after a lengthy lay-off with a close third in the Cleeve Hurdle last month, while Silviniaco Conti was last sighted when winning the King George at Kempton on St Stephen’s Day.

Nicholls said: “Those are the two I have in mind, but it is very much weather dependent as I wouldn’t want to gallop them if the ground is heavy.”

Meanwhile, jockey Timmy Murphy will miss the Cheltenham Festival.

The Grand National-winning rider suffered a dislocated shoulder for a second time in three months in January.

Murphy must now undergo corrective surgery on the troublesome injury.

Murphy, who has secured eight winners at the Festival, suffered a recurrence of the injury in an accident at his home in Gloucestershire.

The 39-year-old Murphy (pictured) first dislocated the joint at Newbury in November following an altercation with fellow jockey Dominic Elsworth, for which he was banned nine days by the British Horseracing Authority.

Elsewhere, the Pertemps Final is the preferred option of three handicap entries at the Cheltenham Festival for Denis Hogan’s stable star Inis Meain.

The seven-year-old is rated 110 on the Flat, but it has taken a while for him to fully grasp the demands of the jumping game.

He secured just his second victory from 12 starts over hurdles with a determined effort at Navan on Sunday and Hogan hopes his charge is finally getting his act together.

He said: “We were very happy with him the other day. We have a bit more work to do with his jumping, but at least now he is showing his hurdles a bit more respect, so we can hopefully get him to be a bit quicker.

“He’s gone up 5lb to 129 in Ireland and we’ll have to wait and see what rating he gets Britain.

“He’ll probably have a better chance of getting in the Martin Pipe, but three miles in the Pertemps would suit him better.

“Hopefully there is still improvement in him, we get him there fit and well and he scrapes into the Pertemps.”

Saturday’s Red Mills Chase hero Argocat will skip the Cheltenham Festival and instead head straight for the Betfred Bowl at Aintree in April.

Tom Taaffe’s six-year-old was set to play a leading role in the Powers Irish Whiskey Chase at Down Royal in November until tipping up at the final fence and was then sidelined for over two months.

He was unable to land a blow when he returned in the Kinloch Brae Chase at Thurles in mid-January, but bounced back to his best when getting the better of the Willie Mullins-trained Turban at Gowran Park last weekend.

Davy Russell has played down speculation Burton Port could be his mount for the Crabbie’s Grand National, even though an intriguing new partnership is established at Doncaster today.

The Irish jockey will partner the Jonjo O’Neill-trained 10-year-old for the first time in a veterans’ chase over three miles, his only mount at the South Yorkshire circuit.

Burton Port was not far off top class in his pomp, having finished fourth in a Gold Cup and second in a RSA Chase, when trained by Nicky Henderson.

His form since transferring to O’Neill’s yard last October is less inspiring, but Burton Port remains a lively ante-post outsider for the National, for which he must carry 10st 8lb.

Russell was, however, keen to quell the notion that his Doncaster alliance with the Trevor Hemmings-owned stayer is a dress rehearsal for Aintree in April.

He said: “I don’t think that (the Grand National) is anything to do with it. It’s a bit of a coincidence more than anything.

“Jonjo (O’Neill) rang me the other day and asked me if I’d ride him. He’s 10, but he’s not had that much racing and has a lot of ability.

“Doncaster’s a good track and I’m looking forward to the ride.”

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