By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
On Saturday, I visited racehorse trainer Olly Murphy’s yard ahead of the new National Hunt season. Olly began training four and a half years ago and is based at Warren Chase Stables in Warwickshire, just three miles from Stratford Racecourse.
Last season, the yard sent out eighty winners, two short of their previous best tally of eighty-two from the 2018/19 campaign. So far this season, they have had eighteen winners from eighty-four runners and all of the winter horses have recently come back to the yard to prepare for when the season begins properly in October.
Olly’s mother trained racehorses and his father was a bloodstock agent. From a young age, he rode out for different yards and had thirty winners as an amateur jockey “until the scales got the better of” him. Then, after spending five years in Ireland, he decided to pursue a career as a trainer and, “The rest,” he told me, “Is history!”
During his time in Ireland, Olly worked with some top-class racehorses and I asked him about his highlights, “Don Cossack winning the Gold Cup or Tiger Roll winning the Triumph Hurdle. They were two memories that sit very high on the list for me. Don Cossack had the world at his feet and he unfortunately got an injury at the wrong time after winning a Gold Cup but he was a phenomenal horse.”
“He was the most gorgeous horse you’ve ever set your eyes on: very laid back and just went about his work,” Olly continued. And what about the fan-favourite Tiger Roll? “A character, a real character. He’s well-named – a tiger. He’d bite you; he’d kick; he’d buck; he’d squeal. He’s got a really quirky temperament and he’s been an absolute star and a horse of a lifetime.”
Recently, Olly has added a brand-new schooling strip, “I’ve got a furlong and a half kind of gel track schooling strip; four hurdles, four fences in a straight line. It works really well and we’ve just started using it. Aidan Coleman and Sean Bowen were in this week and we had glowing reports, so hopefully it’ll be a good asset to the place.”
When we arrived at Warren Chase Stables, my parents and I walked up to the gallops to watch some of the horses work. We got there just in time to see Getaway Lily Bear galloping, which made my mum very happy as she has a tiny share in the filly.
The horses have a set routine for their work and, as we visited on a Saturday, it was a “quiet day” where the horses did one and a half miles (three laps of the half a mile long sand gallop). On Tuesdays and Fridays, they get worked harder and Thursdays and Fridays are usually schooling mornings. “They’re on the sand five or six days a week and on the woodchip gallop one day. We stick to a routine and it has worked for us really well,” Olly told me.
Before they go out onto the gallops, the horses trot around an arena, which has gorgeous views of the surrounding countryside, in order to warm up. Olly talked me through who each horse was from memory and issued instructions to the riders before they went off to the gallops. Bombs Away, Go Dante and Moore Margaux were three of the best-looking horses and could all be winning over hurdles this season.
It was lovely to meet a few members of Premier Thoroughbred Racing were at the yard to watch their horses, Rock On Tommy and Friary Lane. Also, it was great to meet Chris Haughey, Olly’s yard sponsor and the owner of one of my favourite horses Here Comes McCoy. If you followed me on Twitter last National Hunt season, you’d have seen my love for this horse. Sadly, he has picked up a small tendon injury, ruling him out for the upcoming season, but he remains an exciting prospect for next year. In the meantime, Chris has a promising young horse called Keepyourdreamsbig, whose name was inspired by the the advice given to viewers by Rachael Blackmore after her historic Grand National win.
This horse was very friendly – just like every other horse. The majority of them had their heads over the door with their ears pricked, looking for cuddles and kisses, and we were only too happy to oblige. The horses seemed so happy and, like Olly told us on the gallops, “relaxed horses win races.” My favourite horse in Olly’s yard is Champagnesuperover. As he was very successful last season as part of my 20 To Watch blog, I was so excited to meet him. He was everything I hoped he would be! His big white face made him easy to spot when he was out exercising, moving beautifully in the arena and on the gallops. Another horse that I was excited to meet was Linelee King as I have followed him since he went through the Goffs Land Rover Sale a few years ago. He came away from his breakfast to have a chat and a cuddle and was a big fan of my dad! Also, I was allowed to go into the stable with a stunning unraced horse, who I’m very excited about, to get a closer look and help feed them. He/she shall remain nameless until my 20 To Watch airs on 1st October! One of the overwhelming things about the horses at Olly’s was just how loved they are – no wonder they win a lot of races!
Olly’s first winner was Dove Mountain ridden by Luke Morris at Brighton, “I’ll never forget. I was about a furlong and a half down the track from the winning line and I was watching the big screen and one and a half furlongs down I’d started watching him and I was kind of running up through the crowd and the next thing, a pure fluke, I actually bumped into my dad and I got extremely emotional. It was ‘this lad has come back from Ireland; he’s worked for one of the best trainers in the world of National Hunt Racing. Was he going to fall flat on his face and could we all laugh at him or was he going to make it?’. It was just a massive, I suppose, a relief to train my first winner. It all kind of flowed after that. It was a magic day and I got extremely emotional. I can remember it like it was yesterday.”
I was keen to know whether Olly felt pressure to succeed, “I did, because I’d had a good job for a long time and I came home to a family-run set up and I’ve been very lucky to have been supported financially by my mother and father and you’ve got to go and get results. People like to knock you, especially when you’ve been given a leg up. People love to knock you and I didn’t want to give people a chance to knock me. Thank God, we kind of started well and the ball kind of kept rolling until now.”
Graded success came very early on for Olly when Hunters Call won a grade three handicap hurdle at Ascot in December 2017, beating a quality field containing Silver Streak and Verdana Blue, on just his first start for the yard, “That was special – a one hundred grand handicap on ITV in my first year training. Jack Kennedy came over to ride, who I knew very well from Gordon’s. […] His work was better than anything else I had in the place at the time. I just remember he got a lovely smooth run through and he turned in and jumped the second last on the bridle and I remember being out on the track with my assistant at that point, Ed Telfer, a good friend, and Jack Kennedy’s brother. He [Hunters Call] was super impressive and we got a real buzz from that.”
The highlight of Olly’s career so far came in the Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase in February 2020: “Itchy Feet winning at Sandown was a massive day for me, on a personal level. I’ve been involved in a lot of grade one horses when I was in Gordon’s in Ireland, so to train a [grade one] winner in my own right was massive and I’ve obviously had some other big winners over the short journey thus far and I’m really looking forward to hopefully competing with the big boys in the coming season.”
Olly didn’t necessarily expect to achieve the success he has done so early on in his career, “It has all just snowballed. It was a case of coming back and kind of going slowly, slowly and getting to the top gradually or certainly competing with the big boys gradually and, after six months of training, I just got really well-supported and have done from there on in. We’ve got 120 to 115 horses in now and hopefully a better string than I’ve ever had.”
With such a large group of horses racing across the country, it requires a good team of jockeys, “Aidan [Coleman] is going to ride whatever he can. It’s great to have him by my side with all his experience now and he’s going to ride whatever he wants to ride. There’s a lot of horses and there’s going to be a lot of outside rides for Sean Bowen and Fergus Gregory and Adrian Heskin and the good conditionals and amateurs in the yard.”
One thing that struck me about Olly was that he firmly believes that it is his responsibility to ensure his staff are happy. As he told me on the gallops, any negativity flows directly down the reins and into the horses. There was such a relaxed atmosphere with work riders singing along to the radio between lots. The staff were polite, friendly and welcoming, saying “good morning” whenever they passed. It seems like a wonderful place to work! For Careers In Racing, I interviewed work rider Liselle and amateur jockey Ollie. I really enjoyed chatting to them and hearing about their jobs. The interviews are available to watch on Careers In racing’s Instagram and Twitter pages and are linked at the bottom of this article.
I’ve encountered a lot of good people in racing over the last four years and Olly Murphy is one of the nicest. I was blown away by the insight I was given to his yard, his horses and his training methods. He was so brilliant to talk to and willing to answer all of my questions and point out anything I’d be interested in. I’m so grateful for the morning we spent at Warren Chase Stables. Thank you so much and best of luck to Olly, his staff and his horses this season!
I spoke to Olly about some of the potential flag bearers for his yard this season and below are his quotes on each horse –
Thomas Darby – “Goes to Wetherby for, I think it’s called, the Great Yorkshire Hurdle – it’s a three-mile graded race at the end of October. He’s in great form and he’s very unexposed at three miles and he ran really well at Aintree over the three and I’m really looking forward to him.”
Itchy Feet – “Itchy Feet with hopefully start off in the Old Roan Chase at Aintree and he’ll be campaigned in all the good two and a half to three-mile chases throughout the season.”
Island Nation – “Going to step up in trip. He’s bene progressive and he’s definitely still handicapped to win but I think the step up in trip is going to bring out plenty of improvement.”
Brewin’upastorm – “He’ll start off at Aintree as well in a two and a half mile in a kind of conditions hurdle. Thomas Darby ran in it last year and then he’ll be competing in all the two and a half mile hurdles this year.”
Fabrique En France – “He’s had a wind-op and he’s going to be a nice novice handicap chaser. Didn’t do a lot wrong all year and he’s certainly a horse who’s going to benefit for a wind surgery over the summer.”
Champagnesuperover – “He’ll go chasing.”
Allavina – “She could be a graded mare, I’d imagine. I’m going to jump fences with her. She’s come back to me a little bit later than the others but she jumps really well and could be a mare to get some black-type over fences.”
Washington – “He’ll start off in a maiden hurdle and obviously he’s two-from-two so far. He could be quite smart; he’s a very sharp horse and he’s one I’m really looking forward to.”
Enemy Coast Ahead – “He’s had a nice long break and he’s back cantering away. He’s a very hard horse to train because we’ve had troubles with his knees but he’s a horse who’ll hopefully be on the track in six to eight weeks and will start in a handicap hurdle.”
Vocaliser – “Been a really fun horse for his syndicate. He’s found it tough now he’s gone up the handicap but he’s slowly creeping back down. He’s had a little wind-op and he’ll appreciate soft ground.”