Chatting With… Oisin Murphy

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Oisin Murphy in the Qatar Racing Silks At Ascot (Joshua Myers Photography)

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

Over the past few years, Oisin Murphy has rapidly become one of the biggest names in horse racing. His determination and skill in the saddle has helped him get to the very top of the sport as a winner of multiple Group Ones and of the coveted Stobart Flat Jockeys Championship.

Most jockeys aspire to be Champion Jockey and, for Oisin, it was a childhood dream that became a reality, “It was a huge relief picking up that trophy. My family were very happy and hopefully I can do it again at some stage in the future.” In order to win that trophy, Oisin rode 168 winners, over 20 more than his nearest rival, Danny Tudhope. However, despite the title, Oisin told me, “I don’t think of myself as a Champion Jockey though – I’ve only done it once.”

To me, Oisin appears to be down-to-earth and appreciative of all of the success he gets. He began riding when he was four and competed in show jumping, which he still loves doing now. His uncle Jim Culloty rode Best Mate to win three Gold Cups and Bindaree to win the Grand National and trained Lord Windermere to win the Gold Cup. Following his uncle’s career helped get him caught on the racing bug, “As a child, I watched National Hunt racing on the television and I absolutely loved it. Jim was riding at the top of his game and then, from the age of fourteen, I was riding out for Jim. He’s controlled every career decision that I’ve made, including going to Andrew Balding, Aidan O’Brien and Qatar Racing.”

In June 2013, Oisin rode his first winner on Imperial Glance at Salisbury for Andrew Balding and the horse was an easy winner, “I felt relief, joy and I looked terrible. I wasn’t that good in my style but it was good – great – to get the first winner on board.”

A few months after that first victory, Oisin Murphy won four of the races on Ayr Gold Cup Day, including the big race itself. The first leg was the Ayr Gold Cup, which he won on Highland Colori for his boss Andrew Balding. Next, he steered home Levitate to win by two and a quarter lengths and then Silver Rime won by a neck over seven furlongs. Cockney Sparrow took the last race, capping off a great day, “It was unexpected. I only had three rides going up there and everything lead to the next. I picked up the spare ride on Silver Rime. The horses were all well and it was unbelievable.”

From there, Oisin’s career kicked off. In 2014, he partnered Hot Streak to win the Temple Stakes and later became Champion Apprentice in the same year. He won the German 2000 Guineas on Kerpino in May 2015 and then won the Ebor on Ligitant in the August.

In 2016, Oisin became first jockey for Sheikh Fahad Al Thani’s Qatar Racing and since then he has become somewhat synonymous with the claret and gold silks, “Sheikh Fahad has a lovely team of horses and he’s very good to me – the best boss anyone could ask for.” Their first season as a partnership was phenomenal – they managed to win ten group races with ten different horses, “It was absolutely great but it was lacking a group one winner which my job is all about.” Oisin had to wait until October 2017 for his first Group One victory as he won the Prix de la Foret at the Arc Meeting on the Martin Meade-trained Aclaim.

Shortly before this group one, Oisin partnered a horse called Roaring Lion on his second outing which resulted in a win, the roan’s second, “Roaring Lion bolted up at Kempton in September 2017. He gave me a really nice feel but he was a large, gross baby. He just improved and improved. It was impossible to know how good he was going to be at that stage.” Roaring Lion was very good. He won the Royal Lodge and came second in the Racing Post Trophy on his remaining runs at two. In his three-year-old campaign, he was third in the Craven and fifth in the 2000 Guineas. When stepped up to one mile two and a half furlongs, he won the Dante then stepped further up in trip to be third in the Derby. On his next four starts, Oisin and Roaring Lion won the Coral-Eclipse, Juddmonte International, Irish Champion Stakes and finally the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes – all Group Ones. Devastatingly, Roaring Lion passed away after suffering from colic after only covering a handful of mares. It is no secret how much Oisin and the team at Qatar Racing loved this horse, “He means the world to me – I adore him. He was a great character and a gent.”

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Oisin Murphy Before Riding Deirdre At Ascot (John Myers Photography)

Another horse Oisin has struck up a good partnership with is Japanese mare Deirdre. She spent the summer of 2019 in England and followed in Crystal Ocean on her first start in England. Oisin took over for the Nassau Stakes which she managed to win by over a length. Next time, she went to Ireland to come fourth in the Irish Champion Stakes before following in Magical, once again, in the Qipco Champion Stakes. Over the winter, Oisin partnered her in races in Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. “Deirdre is really cool; she’s very masculine, tall, strong filly. She relaxes very well in her races. She just has a super temperament.”

When our attention as racing fans are on National Hunt racing in the winter, Oisin spends a lot of time in Japan and I was intrigued to know the differences between racing there and in Britain from a jockey’s point of view, “The fields tend to be a lot larger in Japan. They race on very fast ground in the Autumn and Winter time. They breed very good horses and the racing is competitive.”

Japan has been racing all through the coronavirus pandemic and Oisin believes it is safe for England to get started very soon, “I think it’s very simple – we’re ready to resume. Australia, Hong Kong and Japan never stopped. All we have to do is lead by their example.” In lockdown, Oisin has been doing “a lot of walking, cooking, riding out, mucking out for Emma, my girlfriend, who has her showjumpers” to keep himself busy.

Oisin is sure to be riding some really smart horses when racing resumes and he gave me two to pass onto you guys ready for the new flat season – “I love a colt called Tactical, he’s by Toronado. He’s doing really nicely at the minute. And a three-year-old… Enemy, he’s Muhaarar and won first time at Ascot. He’s a lovely horse.”

Oisin is an ambassador for Racing To School and getting more young people involved in racing – and equine sports as a whole – is something he is passionate about so I was keen to find out how he thought horse racing could get more young people into the sport, “Go to schools like I do and engage with young people; show them how these beautiful animals and tell them how great horse racing and show jumping and all the other sports are. Encourage them to be involved – whether that’s just watching on television or owning their pony or helping out at their local stables on the weekends.”

Horse racing is lucky to have Oisin Murphy. He is a wonderful ambassador for the sport – aspiring jockeys look up to him, the media loves him and punters trust him. To me, Oisin appears to be down-to-earth and appreciative of all of the success he gets. He is extremely determined to succeed and be as successful as possible – whether that be as Champion Jockey or winning Group One races. I’m sure he will be riding at the top of his game for a very long time to come.

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