As Britain’s two-time winning champion jockey, Irishman Oisin Murphy prepares for the upcoming flat season on the last Saturday in March, Tiarnan O'Kelly chatted with the man about his career to date.
Since starting riding in 2013, Murphy has amassed over 1,000 career winners, including more than 15 Group 1 winners featuring some of the best races around like the 2000 Guineas, the Japan Cup, Juddmonte International, Sussex Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes and many more.
Murphy has got to ride all over the world including in Japan, Dubai, USA and some other countries outside Europe also.
After a successful eight seasons of riding, Murphy has won the UK Apprentice Jockeys’ Championship, which he clinched in 2014, and he has also won the prestigious UK jockeys’ championship consecutive times with over 200 winners in 2019 and a further 144 in 2020.
He will be going for a third championship in a row this year.
The early days
“I got into riding horses when I was younger as I loved show jumping, I grew up around horses and I loved horses so I was always going to go down that route of riding horses", says Murphy.
“I did a fair bit of pony racing and then I went riding out in Tommy Stack’s and Aidan O’Brien’s when I was about 14 or 15 and I really enjoyed that as I was riding some nice horses and meeting great people.
“In October 2012 I moved over to Andrew Balding’s in Newmarket, England and I took out my licence from there.
"It was tough to settle in for a few months as I had never been away from home for long periods of time and Ireland and England are very different so I found the first few months hard but I settled in eventually.”
The apprentice years: 2013-2014
In Murphy’s debut year riding, he notched up over 40 winners including a Listed race. The Kerryman recorded a four-timer on Ayr Gold Cup Day, including the main race itself, at the tender age of 18.
“I got my first winner within my first week of riding, it was my 12th ride I think but I had a couple of rides every day since I got my licence out, so thankfully I didn’t have to wait too long.
“I only went to Ayr for three rides and I ended up getting four winners in the same day, so it was brilliant. My first year was great, I got to ride some nice horses and I never expected to take off the way I did but Andrew Balding was very good to me and it was nice to take the Ayr Gold Cup in my first year.
"My first year was relatively successful, my strike-rate was healthy but I think I would have ridden more winners if Andrew had allowed me to ride in Class 4s and less. I was restricted to Class 4s and above so I could look after my claim and get some experience.”
In 2014 he won over 70 races, including a Group 2 and a few other black-type races, riding out his claim and securing his name as a professional jockey for the next season. He also won the apprentice championship in the UK. So, not a bad year at all.
“It was a great feeling. I had been riding for Qatar Racing and riding a lot for Andrew and there was good support for me as my agent was working very hard for me. It felt like all the hard work was paying off and I was doing my best in the mornings to ride some nice horses and then in the afternoon’s hoping they’d win.
My favourite winner that year was Hot Streak in the Group 2 Temple Stakes in Haydock.”
The professional years: 2015-present
In Murphy’s first year as a professional jockey, he was glorious over 90 times in Britain, which included Europe’s richest handicap in the Ebor in York and Murphy was also making a name for himself abroad as he was victorious in the Group 2 German 2000 Guineas as well as a group 3 in Abu Dhabi.
“It was great to win Europe’s richest handicap in the Ebor. Joe Tuite is a small Irish trainer based in Lambourn with a small stable of horses and it was an important day. It was my first year without any claim so I wanted to do as well as I could.”
Five years ago Murphy reached the century mark of winners in one season for the first time in his career as well as picking up some more Group winners also.
“It was nice to improve numerically year-on-year and keep the pressure on to make some new contacts.”
Indeed, 2017 proved to be a year full of new landmarks achieved for Murphy as he put his name down along with some of the greats who have won at the top level as he recorded his first two Group 1 winners in Aclaim in the Prix De La Foret for Martyn Meade in Chantilly, France and Blond Me for Andrew Blading in the E.P Taylor Stakes, Woodbine, Canada.
Murphy also broke his most amount of winners in a season once again with 127 winners in Britain that year.
“It was a huge relief to win my first Group 1,” he recalls.
“I had lots of experience and it felt like I was waiting forever, so to finally get it over and done with was brilliant. I remember winning my first Group 1 in the Prix De La Foret on Aclaim in Chantilly; there were a lot of Irish people and Irish flags there and it’s a day I will never forget.”
In 2018 Murphy was just short of 200 winners and he really got his name onto the big stage as Lightning Spear and Roaring Lion were around by this point; they gave the Irishman five Group 1 successes between them that year and he finished the year with eight Group 1 winners.
His career was really starting to take off as he was winning lots of races including some of the best around like the Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Sussex, QE II and the Irish Champion Stakes.
“It was a very important year, plenty of good horses to ride and winning the Qipco Champion Stakes at Leopardstown on Roaring Lion was a brilliant day; Sheikh Fahad Al-Thani was there along with a lot of my family so it was very important and I got a big thrill out of it.
“I was very privileged: I didn’t take those winners for granted and I enjoyed every moment. These good horses (Roaring Lion and Lightning Spear) are very hard to find and I hope we find more like them again in the future.”
The last two years have been among his best, particularly the 2019 season, as he recorded over a whopping 200 winners in the UK, winning his first-ever jockeys’ championship and putting his name down among the greats of racing.
Last year was also a championship-winning year for Murhpy as he won the jockeys’ title for the second year in a row with over 140 winners - less than the previous year but still very impressive as the season saw a delayed start due to the pandemic.
Murphy returned in some style by winning the 2000 Guineas on Kameko in Newmarket for his biggest supporters in supplying, Qatar Racing and Andrew Balding, which was an emotional and well-deserved win for all involved.
“Winning the two championships was incredible, it was a childhood dream and it was great to get it done. I was really really thrilled and relieved as it takes a lot of hard work and travelling.
“Winning the 2000 Guineas on Kameko was very special as it’s a race I always wanted to win and Sheikh Fahad was watching the race in Newmarket town. He’s a house there so he was only down the road and it was a brilliant brilliant day, a stallion-making race and I hope Kameko can be successful at stud, I really think he can be.
"It was great to win the Group 2 Joel Stakes on Kameko too: I was very pleased and that was very important to me.”
Relationships, role models, inspirations and managing his weight
“Sheikh Fahad and Qatar Racing have been putting me up since 2013, I rode for him in Ascot on Qipco British Champion’s Day in 2013, so I’ve been riding for him for a long time and we have a great relationship and I hope it continues for many years.
“Andrew Balding has been great to me, he really understands what I want to do and what I want to achieve. I really admire his work and the stable has grown massively in the last six years as it’s literally doubled in size, so it’s been a great journey", said Murphy.
“My biggest role model growing up was Kieren Fallon. I loved watching him, when he won the Arc on Dylan Thomas there was a lot of pressure on him and I thought that was an incredible ride and I still admire him today. I used to ride against him regularly and we always had a good relationship and I’m a big big fan of his.”
“My best mate in the weigh room would probably be Andrea Atzeni as we go for dinner a lot, we stay together, we travel together and we ride all over the world together so he’s a top, top man.”
“I’ve always been quite heavy, I have to go to the gym a lot and I just try and manage it as best I can, I like to run and I get in the bath a couple of times a week.”
“There’s a lot of Irish, European and American pedigrees out in Japan and the quality of horse out there is really top-class so I absolutely buzz of the level of racing out there and I hope I can go back year in year in.”
“My favourite racecourse in Dubai would be Meydan and in Japan it would be Tokyo. My favourite racecourse in England is York and in Ireland it would be Leopardstown. My favourite winner was Alcohol Free in the Cheveley Park for Andrew Balding as I was getting a lot of grief from the media at the time, it was in the middle of my suspension hearings in France and it was a big big deal for me.”
“The Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp is the race I would love to win the most as it’s a very special race against different sexes, different ages and different horses come from all over the world to race in it. Out of all the horses I ride, I think Contrail has all the attributes to win the Arc, he’s been top-class in Japan, he handles all different types of ground, he’s a superstar and I think he ticks lots of the boxes.”
“Outside who I usually ride for, it would be hard to know how good horses would be at this point in the year but St. Mark’s Basilica is a good horse, he looked very good last year and he’s an impeccable pedigree. Mainly he’s a gorgeous horse.”
Horses to watch
“My aims for the upcoming season are to ride as many winners as I can, hopefully find some top-class horses and make the right decisions.”
“Probably one of the main ones to look out for would be a horse called Counsel who is trained by John Gosden, he was second on his only start. He’s very well-bred as he’s by Frankel and out of Honourina; I really like him.
"He’s a staying horse with lots of potential and he will definitely stay 12 furlongs. In Andrew Balding’s, Alcohol Free, she doesn’t need an introduction. I am really looking forward to riding Dream Of Dreams again for Sir Michael Stoute.”
Written by Tiarnan O'Kelly.