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Maguire placed on Holly standby.

ADRIAN MAGUIRE is being lined up to partner leading Smurfit Champion Hurdle hope French Holly in the Irish equivalent later this month-if regular rider Andrew Thornton is unfit to take the mount.

Trainer Ferdy Murphy, hopeful French Holly can turn over reigning star Istabraq in the AIG (Europe) Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on January 24, has had to consider his options following an infection in Thornton's left leg.

"I have talked it over with French Holly's owner, Kieren Flood, and he is thinking about coming to Britain from Ireland in the next couple of days to talk face to face with Andrew about the situation," Murphy said yesterday.

"A decision will be made this week-if Andrew says he will be fit to ride, then we'll leave it at that.

"But we need to know what's happening. So if Andrew thinks it is doubtful he will be fit, then we have to get Adrian familiarised with the horse.

"Whatever happens in Ireland, French Holly is Andrew's ride and when he is fit he will always be first choice for the horse."

Thornton admitted last night he was concerned by the situation. "I'm not panicking, but I am worried," said the jockey, whose leg is infected around plates which were inserted when he broke it last year.

"I'm thinking about riding French Holly all the time, but

at the end of the day the leg comes first. I have a serious problem that I have to get right.

"If you had seen my leg on Saturday night, you would have been scared. The amount of poison flowing out of a boil just above my ankle was unbelievable.

"Today the leg is much better and there is much less fluid flowing out, but it's impossible to say how long I will be off for."

Murphy is confident that French Holly, brilliant winner of the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, will take all the beating in Ireland. The trainer, currently in cracking form, continued: "The plan has always been Cheltenham, with the Irish Champion Hurdle on the way, and as my lad needs some more match practice I'm not at all worried about meeting Istabraq.

"My fellow's jumping is now much better because we've been able to school him more this year, and I think his win at Kempton was good for racing, because the Champion was looking much too one-sided.

"French Holly has come out of it well, will improve for that run by another 5lb or 6lb and, with a horse who has as much toe as him, I have to be optimistic."

Murphy blames himself for French Holly's defeat by Dato Star in the Fighting Fifth Hhurdle on his penultimate start, and for a lacklustre effort by the gelding at Ascot on his seasonal debut.

"I think we rushed him into Ascot and it was a mistake to go to Newcastle, because I didn't realise that it would be so much more competitive than in its old form as a conditions race," he said.

"People have asked me if I'm still worried about the two-mile trip for the horse, and the answer is no. I've always known that he's got gears."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Chapman, Matt
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 5, 1999
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