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Hurley is hoping to Call the shots.

IMPERIAL CALL's attempt to become the first Irish-trained horse to win the Pertemps King George VI Chase for 23 years represents a big moment for trainer Raymond Hurley.

The County Cork farmer's son, who also runs a pair of hurdlers today in Runaway Renegade and Follow The Leader, had hardly been heard of outside his native Clonakilty until Imperial Call won the Munster National just over two months ago.

Hurley, still only 23, rode only twice in a brief point-to-point career and, although he took out a licence last year, his was a low-key affair until he took charge of the 1996 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner.

"I used to ride out for Fergie Sutherland when I was at school, but that was well before Imperial Call's time," said Hurley.

"Five years ago I went to work for Lisselan Farms [owners of Imperial Call] at Clonakilty under Andrew Lee, who was the resident trainer.

"Fergie retired early in the summer and Imperial Call came to me. He had been rested since the end of February and in mid-May we began riding him out. Because of his previous injury problems we brought him back into work as slowly as we possibly could and we nursed him along. But he came right quite quickly and he has won all except one of his four starts for me."

Imperial Call had two disappointing seasons after winning the Gold Cup but he seems back to his old self. Is he, though, as good as he was?

"That's the question everybody is asking, myself included, and I don't have the answer because I had nothing to do with the horse in his Gold Cup days," Hurley said.

"What I do know is that he is in very good form and has been doing everything right."

Before flying over with the horse on Christmas Eve, Hurley's experience of Kempton was limited to watching previous runnings of the King George VI Chase on television.

"I have been to Cheltenham, Doncaster and Windsor, but this is my first time at Kempton.

"It's a flat, right-handed track where they go a gallop. The King George is often run at a fast pace and it seems sure to be the same again today. But this won't worry Imperial Call-he will have the speed to go with them.

"I don't know whether he will win, but he is going to run a big race," added Hurley. "He could go very close indeed."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Clower, Michael
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Dec 26, 1998
Words:410
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