We get to know our new star columnist, Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy. You can read his thoughts on Sporting Life every Friday.
Sporting Life: Hello Oisin and welcome to Sporting Life. It’s obviously a very strange time at the moment and the Flat season should be in full swing – tell us how the Champion Jockey is coping with lockdown?
Oisin Murphy: I’m very fortunate that I live in the countryside and I don’t have to come into contact with people, so I can literally go out of my back door and go walking for miles and miles. I’ve actually developed shin splints from walking and I’ve had to take a few days off, so now I know what a young horse feels like when they begin training at a young age!
I’ve been able to ride out in a small number of stables. Ralph Beckett, namely, as he’s basically self-contained down there, it’s a large stable and he can take all the sensible precautions. Everyone is practising social distancing. It’s been frustrating not to ride Kameko at Andrew Balding’s, but it’s just the way it is.
I realise how fortunate I am. I don’t have children, I’m not locked up in a large town or city. I feel for the families in Manchester, Birmingham, London who are in apartments trying to keep the kids entertained, it’s a really tough one.
WATCH: New Sporting Life ambassador Oisin Murphy chats to Ed Chamberlin in this welcome video...
SL: Let’s look back on last season. You were crowned Champion Jockey – how big a deal was that for you?
OM: It meant the world to me. I was trying for so long, it’s everyone’s ambition to be Champion Jockey and it was a long journey to get there. It was really hard, I had a lot of sleepless nights, especially when Danny Tudhope went approximately 20 clear and became favourite in the betting.
It was a lot of stress, not only on me but on the people who work for me; my agent, my driver, Sue, my family, because everyone knew that I wanted it super badly.
It was mostly relief when I was able to go up and collect the trophy. I’m not particularly proud that I’ve achieved it once, but I’d love to do it again.
SL: This year’s Flat season is going to have a very different look to it – is one of your aims to retain your Champion Jockey title or do your targets change given the circumstances, is it more a case of quality over quantity now?
OM: Until we know what the fixture list is like and how we’re going to go about things it’s very hard to say you’re going for the Champion Jockey title again in 2020, even though it’s something I’d love to achieve.
I won three Group Ones last year, I feel like the quality of horse I’m riding on a day-to-day basis is improving all the time and I want to continue that progression. You have to get the balance right, but quantity is key when you’re trying to find these future stars.
SL: The immediate future is obviously unclear, but if Irish racing did come back before the UK have you looked into the potential of going out there, would that be feasible or something you wanted to do?
OM: I haven’t looked into it as we’re not planning anything until we know the situation on a return for both UK and Irish racing. I could go to Ireland and get rides, but would I get the quality compared to what I ride in the UK? I'm not sure. There is plenty to consider when racing returns.
SL: Tell us a bit about yourself Oisin, where you grew up, what it was like and how you made your journey to riding for Andrew Balding in England as a youngster?
OM: I’m from Killarney in County Kerry, it’s quite a touristy sort of area of Ireland. We lived half an hour from the sea but I never learned to swim. I used to ride the ponies all the time. I’ve had ponies from the age of seven and at one stage I’ll have had 11 ponies outside my back door, so it was quite full on.
I did a version of A-levels in Ireland but I wasn’t going to do particularly well at school until I moved in with my Uncle Jim (Culloty) and Auntie Susie when I was 14. She was really strict and I was told I’d have to repeat if I didn’t do well, so I knuckled down in order to finish my schooling.
I rode out for Tommy Stack when I was 14, then I spent two summers at Ballydoyle when I was 15 and 16. Then I came to England after that.
I went straight to Andrew Balding’s and there were several apprentices there at the same time; Joey Haynes, Robert Hornby, Kieran Shoemark, Tom Brown and Dan Muscutt – all there at the same time and all riding our claims out.
Imagine that, it was a fantastic effort by Andrew, none of us were guaranteed to make the grade, but he gave us the opportunities and supported us. I guess if you have a large number of apprentices in one place everyone improves together.
Six apprentices in one stable and making them all professional jockeys, it was incredible really what he managed to do.
SL: How much of an influence was your Uncle Jim on your career given what he achieved in the saddle, including winning those three Gold Cups on Best Mate?
OM: A huge influence. I obviously lived with him and I began riding horses for him, I used to go schooling on Friday mornings and was jumping them over hurdles and fences. School allowed me to miss some of the morning each week to go and do that.
He made the decisions for me when it came to where I went riding out, he dragged me to horse sales and point-to-pointing, I met so many people, he was really good for me and even now I speak to him regularly whether I’ve had a good day or a bad day. He’s been through it all, so he’s a great help.
SL: Given that background, was there ever a moment where you might’ve become a jump jockey?
OM: He never would’ve allowed me to go jumping, unless I had shot up and got taller. The wonderful thing about being a Flat jockey is, although the travelling is a bit tiring at times, I get to ride all over the world. I’m not solely based in Britain, Ireland and France.
SL: Who were your heroes in the saddle growing up?
OM: Kieren Fallon and Frankie Dettori. I named my terrier after Frankie, he used to go missing all the time. But when my Grandad found out I had a dog called Frankie he was very cross as his favourite rider was Kieren Fallon.
Fallon obviously had the Ballydoyle job and he was winning all those Group Ones on fantastic Irish-bred horses, so I better say both, as I admire both of them hugely.
SL: Favourite sportsperson away from racing?
OM: Marcus Ehning the showjumper would be one. And from a football point of view John O’Shea who played for Ireland and Manchester United. He just had a really good work ethic and never got tired, just kept slogging away and I loved that mentality. He was a slogger.
SL: What about away from racing Oisin, what other sports do you like?
OM: I like football and I’m actually a Chelsea fan. I’ve been to Stamford Bridge a few times and because Sheikh Fahad is an Arsenal fan I’ve been to the Emirates a fair few times as well. I watch a bit of snooker, I wouldn’t play it myself but I’m intrigued by it, it’s a fantastic game, watching what Ronnie O’Sullivan can do. If anyone’s played pool, they’ll know how hard it is to control balls the way he does, so you have to admire him. I like golf, as well, I met Rory McIlroy in Dubai about five years ago so I follow his progress closely.
SL: What are you watching on Netflix at the moment?
OM: I’ve re-watched Prison Break, I absolutely love it. It’s brilliant. I’m going to start watching Homeland again as the story was a bit hard to follow. It’s quite educational as they use words I don’t understand and I have to go and look them up on Google! It’s quite sad and boring but that’s what I’ll be doing.
SL: Who’s the best horse you’ve ever ridden?
On ratings you have to say Roaring Lion and Benbatl. They are equal on 123. Roaring Lion’s season in 2018 was incredible. Having run so poorly in the Craven it was amazing what he achieved afterwards and such a shame we didn’t get to race him at four. Unfortunately he’s passed away but I have very fond memories of him, how lucky was I to ride a horse of that magnitude and quality at the age of 22?
SL: Who was your favourite horse growing up?
OM: Best Mate. I never got to meet him actually, but Irish people love National Hunt racing and he had such a large following. He was absolutely gorgeous, he had the most elegant head and people really admired him, I don’t think it was just me.
SL: Do you have a favourite track?
OM: I do. In England it’s York and in Japan it’s Tokyo. There are similarities between the two, both are relatively flat and they’re both left-handed. I’ve ridden a seven-timer at Tokyo and a four-timer at York. I was leading rider at York last year and the year before, Andrew does very well there and I feel like it’s a rare occasion when I go to either of those places and not have a winner.
SL: Who's your best friend in the weighing room?
OM: James Doyle.
SL: What's your main ambition in racing?
OM: I’d like to get to the very top. I want to be Champion Jockey again and again. I want to win races like the Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Until I do that I have to keep working towards those goals.
That’s why going to ride out in different places when I can do is so important, as you never know when you’re going to find the next Group One winner. Last year I stumbled across Veracious, as Sir Michael Stoute was kind enough to give me another chance on her after she was too keen for me at Ascot.
Deirdre was a spare ride as well. I found them because I was working hard, my agent was working hard, and I need that to continue. These good horses don’t just appear unless you’re Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore or William Buick. They have John Gosden, Charlie Appleby and Coolmore. I have Qatar Racing and we have some fantastic horses, but we need to keep building to find the next one.
I have a job to do and I want to do the very best for them and for all the trainers I ride for; Andrew Balding, Hughie Morrison, Ed Walker, I ride for a huge amount of people and they’re all happy to put me up. For that to continue I need to keep producing on the racetrack and keep on finding the right horses.
Oisin Murphy will be writing a column for Sporting Life every Friday. Next week he’ll be chatting through the horses he’s excited about riding in 2020.
If you have a particular horse you want to ask Oisin about, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll read him your question next week.
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