Emerging horse-racing star Oisin Murphy speaks to Fiona O’Brien about his rise to fame, Epsom Derby experience, and plans for the future
Oisin Murphy is the name on everyone in racing’s lips. The apprentice jockey rode out his 3lb claim with his 95th career win at Sandown last Friday, won a big Group Two race at Haydock earlier in the year and is now bang on course to win this year’s Champion Apprentice title.
And yet he’s still two months away from his 19th birthday. Moving from his native Killarney to train with his uncle Jim Culloty at 14, interspersed with periods at Ballydoyle under Aidan O’Brien, Murphy was thrown into the deep-end early on, and immediately flung himself into the demanding travel requirements.
Guided by his uncle and mentor, he secured a move to Newbury to train with Andrew Balding last year.
Culloty nominated the Kingsclere stables as the ideal base for his young nephew to flourish with the move has disappointing none.
And the apprentice has been turning heads ever since, starting, most notably, last year when he secured an unbelievable 9260-1 four-timer at Ayr that catapulted his rise to prominence.
This year he has gone from strength to strength and after a remarkably rewarding winter stint with Danny O’Brien in Melbourne, the teenager has had little time to analyse his success.
“I take every day as it comes really. On any given day I just think about my rides for that evening and it’s the same the next day. You don’t have time to think about it, but that’s probably handy,” said the softly, but confidently spoken teenager.
Murphy’s calm tones reflect a refreshing combination of a humble and polite young man who still has a screamingly obvious competitive nature and a fierce desire to succeed.
He did however, have the numbers in mind leading up to his milestone win on Presburg at Sandown.
“I was on the longest losing run I’ve ever had; it was 31 without a win until Presburg. I was getting a bit down as I’d been having so many seconds,” he said.
However, he’s now lost his 3lb claim and has his mind focused on claiming the prestigious Champion Apprentice title as is currently nine wins ahead of nearest contender Connor Beasley.
Murphy secured 41 wins last season, a record he matched with last week’s win on Presburg and with a few months of racing to go his improvement is indisputable.
“Last year Jason Hart stopped me from getting it but that is my main goal right now. There are a lot of good young lads so it won’t be easy.
“I don’t start each race with it in mind, but it definitely is in my head that it is what I want to accomplish this year.”
Although he maintains he won’t get ahead of himself and maintain his concentration on the meeting at hand, there is still the added pressure of what will happen come the end of the summer.
“It’ll be hard, obviously. When you reach that you become slightly less attractive so it becomes more difficult to get good rides.
“You’re only ever as good as your last ride so you have to just keep going, but it’s not easy. When you are a bit more high-profile then you start to get opportunities on better horses so it feeds itself.
“But the pressure can only be a good thing. You have to think you always have a chance, especially leading up to big races. I prefer to go in there riding a favourite rather than an outsider.”
Although one of his most impressive rides so far was his outing at this year’s Epsom Derby, a race he could not believe his agent secured for him.
Murphy rode a 100-1 Red Galileo into fifth, a feat that would be struggle for the most accomplished of jockeys, accentuated by the fact that he finished ahead of two Kingsclere alumni – William Buick and David Probert.
“It was a big surprise to ride in the Derby, obviously apprentices don’t normally get that chance. It was fantastic the horse did so well. He had very little chance to win, but to do well was brilliant.
“I was definitely pushing for William. I had him in my sights in the last furlong and was delighted to finish a place ahead of him.
“It was a very intense atmosphere for everyone, but I was a bit more relaxed as there were no expectations on me.”
It is not surprising then that the assured Murphy is not fazed by sitting side by side with his childhood heroes in the changing rooms.
“Starting out I might have been, but now I’m fine. I just take it as it comes, I wouldn’t go ‘oh my God that’s Frankie Dettori or Kieren Fallon!’
“Obviously I do look up to them, but you can’t think like that. It’s a very competitive place, everyone wants to win. It’s an individual sport, so everyone’s out there for themselves.
“But then, it’s quite relaxing, you spend quite a lot of time with them. I’m more than able to have a laugh, I can be quite outspoken, but it depends what sort of mood everyone’s in.
“Everyone is just mad about the horses, there’s no other reason for doing it. We’re all in the same boat.”
And who did he look up to before his racing career landed him a space next to his opponents in the weighing room?
“Kieren Fallon. He’s had every big job, he’s won all the big races and had every success. Currently there’s no one better riding than Ryan Moore so I’d look up to him as well, but I’m only really starting out myself.”
It’s clear then that his intensity to succeed is a driving force behind his love of racing, and it was this desire that started his whole love affair with racing as a youngster.
“I started doing a bit of pony racing, and kept getting winners. I kept going and got the taste for a bit of success. After that no-one could change my mind.
“There were ponies at home, but it was never forced on to us. I would be watching my uncle on the telly and wanted to be like him eventually so was fortunate to have him in a position to help me out.”
It was this introduction to the racing world that was invaluable to Murphy’s career, but to move away at such a young age was a necessary sacrifice.
“I don’t get to go home much, but speak to my parents a lot. It was very daunting at first.
“They all follow racing so it’s great to have family backing, but I was just a bit lost for the first few weeks but settled in quick enough afterwards which has all worked out well, thank God.
“I get on very well with all the other lads here, we share a kind of hostel and obviously there’s a bit of competitiveness as well.
“Obviously being involved with racing you can’t get away from the fact that there’s a massive Irish presence, whether in England or Australia, but it’s nice to have that community.
Racing is clearly in the blood for Murphy, and he couldn’t imagine a life away from the stables.
“If I wasn’t a jockey I’d still be riding. Other than that I couldn’t imagine anything else, maybe training.
“On an ideal day off I’d still be watching racing, I don’t play golf so I’d be riding out in the morning, and have a big lunch, more riding and then a big dinner.
“I love my food which is a big problem. I struggled a lot with my weight last year, but it’s got easier now.
“The hard work is the main thing in the yard, but if it means you can do this it makes it all worth it.”
It is telling of his down-to-earth yet assured character that he has no shame about the good fortune that has opened doors for him, as his work ethic and raw talent has stopped him from being a flash in the pan.
And while his school-mates from home commence their college education, Murphy is hesitant to dwell on his globe-trotting lifestyle.
He speaks instead of his delight of how he held his own in Australia, claiming an unexpected thirteen wins on a trip that was meant to give him a brief Australian racing education.
“Melbourne was great, it was the summer there so it had a real party atmosphere. It was a brilliant experience with lots of Irish lads over there.
“Me and my friends from home don’t really compare about things like that.
“Some of them are finishing up the leaving cert, and a lot are going into second year of college so obviously our lives are now very different but thankfully it’s all happened very fast for me.”
Wrapping up, Murphy speaks about the summer and his future with a ‘one day at a time’ mantra, with characteristic intense undertones of his desire to reach the top of his profession – and it’s difficult to doubt him.
“I’d like to go to Galway, but it’s around the same week as Goodwood so we’ll see what happens and who wants me to ride for them.
“I just want to achieve as much as my ability allows. I don’t want to have any regrets but then you’ll only win if you’re good enough to win.”
Murphy, undeniably, is good enough and definitely one to look out for in the future.