WHEN Impervious scooted clear to win a Grade 3 mares’ novice hurdle at Down Royal at the beginning of last season, Colm Murphy was in a buoyant mood.
Not far into his second stint training, the five-year-old mare give her trainer that beautiful winning feeling again, the specific type that only comes from a promising young horse, the feeling of anticipation for more, the one that makes it all worthwhile.
Asked by a huddle of journalists if she could be up there with some of the best mares he has trained, Murphy assertively said she could.
That rose a few eyebrows. It was a big call when you consider he trained the Grade 1 winners Voler La Vedette and Feathard Lady, but a couple of weeks later he doubled down on that opinion when featuring in the Big Interview in this paper.
When Murphy pulled stumps in 2016, it sent a mini shockwave through the Irish jumps scene. If a 20-time Grade 1-winning, four-time Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer can’t make it pay, where are we at? It was a telling sign of how National Hunt racing had evolved, the era of the super stable.
Murphy never left the game after he relinquished his licence. He sourced, bred and kept horses for long-time associate Paul McKeon, most notably the 2019 Champion Bumper winner Relegate.
A qualified accountant, his decision to stop training was a business one, but so was his decision to come back again. His time out of the game allowed him to sit back, look in from the outside, and spot opportunities he didn’t see before.
“We just thought we could breed a few nice horses ourselves to sell,” Murphy explained. “We’ve been pretty lucky to have come across a few nice ones and if you can come across one or two nice ones a year, the money on offer for a point-to-pointer at the moment is phenomenal.
“Don’t get me wrong, the training fees pay the wages and the expenses, but the cream is selling the horses. Before we were selling very few horses or any horses. Now, as such, everyone knows a good business model and all the nice ones are for sale.
“Of course it would be nice to keep a few in the yard, but you can’t turn down that big money at the moment. Hence, when you get a nice couple here, it’s great to have them. Hopefully we won’t have to sell all of them. If we can keep one or two nice ones for different clients, it would be fantastic.”
Colm Murphy and Paul McKeon have seen great success with Impervious \ Healy Racing
Impervious is that magic horse. She has progressed into the mare Murphy thought she could be this season winning all three of her starts, which resulted in J.P. McManus coming into to buy her from Paul McKeon at a presumably lucrative fee, but electing to keep her in the yard, so she can take Murphy back to the biggest stage again.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” he said this week. “It’s fantastic that she stayed with me and we can keep progressing her. It’s fantastic to be going back to Cheltenham with a big chance.”
Impervious earned her billing for the Festival with an excellent win taking on the boys in the Grade 3 Madigan Group Novice Chase at Punchestown, her first run for McManus.
She had won a Grade 2 mares’ chase prior to that so had to carry a penalty which basically negated her mares’ allowance, but she still proved too strong for the well regarded Journey With Me, the pair of them coming 22 lengths clear of the remainder and clocking a very smart time in the process.
She earned rave reviews for her win, promoting herself into close to joint favourite with Allegorie De Vassy for the Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase, but so strong is Murphy’s belief in her ability, he wasn’t all that surprised.
“We were going there looking for a really nice run,” he reflects. “Yes, it’s not ideal to be taking on the boys off more or less level weights, so it was nice to see her go and do it. We’d have been disappointed if she wasn’t thereabouts though.
“It’s probably not ideal to have a hard race like that but she has had plenty of time and she’s in great form now. It’s just a case of keeping her in one piece and getting her there.”
It’s a process he knows only too well - the cotton wool zone in the lead up to the Festival. That nervous feeling going down to the yard every morning is back. He’d have it no other way.
“Touch wood, things have gone well with her so far,” Murphy reports. “We just want to keep her ticking over between now and the race and it’s so far so good.
“On paper, she has plenty of the right credentials. It’s nice to be going back with a chance. Cheltenham is a great place, but it’s great place for winners. It can be a very lonely place when you lose.
“We’re realistic though. A lot of things need to go right for her. If things do go right for her, she has a fighting chance. There are bigger expectations but they’re nice expectations.”