THAT Oisin Murphy was mucking out on the famous afternoon when his uncle Jim Culloty’s Lord Windermere won the Cheltenham Gold Cup is typical of the work ethic of a young rider with the racing world at his feet.
Just 18 years of age, the talented teenager’s impact last summer in his first season was instantaneous – a 9,260-1 four-timer on Ayr Gold Cup day, a 390-1 treble at Doncaster’s Racing Post Trophy meeting and victory aboard John Quinn’s Levitate when the 2013 season reached its denouement on Town Moor.
He returns to Doncaster today for an eye-catching ride on Tullius in today’s £100,000 season-opening William Hill Lincoln and carrying the expectations of all those who believe that the slender Irish-born rider will be this year’s champion apprentice.
He has the right pedigree. Lord Windermere’s last-gasp win, after a stewards’ inquiry, saw Culloty become just the fifth man in jump racing history to ride – and train – the winner of the blue riband Gold Cup.
Murphy’s boss, Andrew Balding, the brother of Channel Four Racing ‘head girl’ Clare, is the trainer who played such an instrumental role in the early career of William Buick, another boy wonder who already has two St Leger victories to his name.
Yet the County Kerry-born rider, who sent the rider sharpening up his riding skills in Australia during a work holiday with top trainer Danny O’Brien, is taking nothing for granted after his irresistible rise. Quite the opposite.
“Last year was last year. This is a new season. The past is the past and it is a fresh start, a new beginning,” the fresh-faced Murphy told The Yorkshire Post.
“I was very fortunate to get on the right horses last year. If I can do the same this year, I will be very pleased and it will be nice to start off well in the Lincoln.
“It was great to win on Levitate – Mr Quinn was one of the trainers who gave me a chance – but Mr Balding’s horses come first.”
“Tullius is in great order and he has done everything right at home. Quite a few of the good horses are drawn on my side – and they should give us a nice drag into the race. If there is cut in the ground, they’re likely to come up on the stand side which will suit, too.”
Such analysis is symptomatic of a young rider whose preparations for each and every race are forensic.
It also explains why he spent the winter riding in Australia. The benefits were three-fold: it enabled Murphy to retain his race sharpness, protect his 3lb riding allowance in this country, which will be invaluable in a cavalry charge like the Lincoln, and work on improving, still further, his judge of pace.
“I learned plenty. It is very different,” said Murphy whose jockeyship earned rave reviews Down Under. “The biggest thing I learned is pace,and race tactics. I have learned a lot more about times and how you ride against the clock in Australia.
“Craig Williams and Damien Oliver were a massive help to me. I sat beside Craig a lot at the races. It was great that a world-class jockey was giving you advice, and Damien has won Melbourne Cups.
“Damien and Craig are the last people to go for their whip. They win races they shouldn’t because they are brilliant riders, they wind horses into the race. I followed them in races. They saw gaps open even before they had come.”
By speaking about race-riding as a ‘craft’ rather than a ‘job’, Murphy was emulating the aforementioned Culloty who rode Henrietta Knight and the late Terry Biddlecombe’s Best Mate to three successive Gold Cup wins a decade ago before becoming a trainer.
Murphy left school at the age of 13 to begin working for Culloty in Cork and was entrusted with riding the likes of Lord Windermere and stablemate Spring Heeled, who won the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup at this month’s Cheltenham Festival.
“I wasn’t at Cheltenham – I was mucking out at Andrew’s,” said Murphy. “It’s massive for Jim because he wouldn’t have many horses. It was great that it came off. To be honest, Lord Windermere was probably a bit fortunate to keep the race but he was the best horse and kept his ears pricked all the way up the hill.
“Spring Heeled and Lord Windermere came to the yard at the same time as me. Lord Windermere showed us absolutely nothing as a young horse. From the very start, Jim put me on nice horses. I had ridden lots of ponies and show-jumpers, but this was different.
“I then rode work for Tommy Stack and then Aidan O’Brien. Between Jim and Mr O’Brien, they suggested that I joined Mr Balding. I’m fortunate I am 5ft 5in and haven’t grown since I was 16. I don’t want to ride over jumps unless I get too fat. No chance. But I’ve got a lot to thank Jim for and I still phone him up for advice. The one thing I have learned is that you should never stop learning.”