FERDY Murphy, who has died at 70, was renowned as one of National Hunt racing’s finest trainers during a career in racing which spanned over 50 years.
Proud of his Irish roots, it was North Yorkshire where he recorded many of his most significant successes – and nurtured a generation of riders and trainers.
From horsemen like Adrian Maguire, Davy Russell, Graham Lee, PJ McDonald and many more, he was also integral to, amongst others, the careers of Phil Kirby and Rebecca Menzies – two successful trainers in the North.
And, for many years, he was The Yorkshire Post’s guest tipster during the Cheltenham Festival – a landmark meeting where only the very best have eclipsed his career tally of 12 winners.
Murphy took his responsibilities seriously – and readers were rewarded handsomely. He always targeted Cheltenham, and also the Aintree, Ayr and Punchestown festivals, with his horses – he excelled with steeplechasers.
He knew the Irish form book like the back of his hand. And he loved to share a story and, tellingly, celebrate the successes of all those who he had nurtured.
His obvious pleasure at his great friends Sue and Harvey Smith winning the 2013 Grand National with Auroras Encore, a race which eluded him, eclipsed his joy after any of his own big race winners – most notably his last Grade One success in 2009 when the great Kalahari King won a novice chase at Aintree.
It was the same after Davy Russell won back-to-back Nationals on Tiger Roll this year. Yet, talking to Russell this week, his respect for his mentor was absolute. Without Murphy, he said, he would not have enjoyed such success. “I learned what it was going to take to be a jockey,” he said.
Born in County Wexford, Ferdinand Murphy – a farmer’s son – picked up his first significant role in racing with Phonsie O’Brien in 1963, brother of the legendary trainer Vincent O’Brien.
He subsequently moved to England to pursue a career in the building trade, but the lure of horses proved too much and he returned to his homeland and later took a role with Paddy Mullins - first as a breaker of young horses, then as head lad and later as first jockey.
Having chalked around 100 winners as a professional, Murphy was approached by Bill and Tony Durkan to become their private trainer.
Bill Durkan’s name was on the racecard, but Murphy played a key role in producing Anaglogs Daughter to claim a hugely-impressive victory the 1980 Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival. Murphy also rode the brilliant front-running mare to win at Chepstow just four days later.
In 1985 he returned to Britain to become the unofficial private trainer for Geoff Hubbard. Murphy was granted his own licence in 1990 and sent out Sibton Abbey to win the 1992 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury under a young Adrian Maguire.
Two years later Murphy decided to go it alone, first as a public trainer in Somerset before moving to Middleham and later to Wynbury Stables in nearby West Witton.
His best horse was the late French Holly, winner of the 1998 Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham and third to Istabraq in the following year’s Champion Hurdle.
Always considered a budding superstar when sent over fences, French Holly won on his chasing debut at Wetherby in October 1999 - but the dream ended when he died in a schooling accident in November of that year.
Truckers Tavern was another headline horse for the Murphy yard, finishing second only to Best Mate in the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Paddy’s Return won the 1996 Triumph Hurdle for Murphy, who enjoyed other Grade One wins with Kalahari King, Ballinclay King, Another Promise and Carlys Quest.
Murphy was the punters’ friend in major handicaps as illustrated when Paris Pike won the Scottish National as a novice in 2000, with Joes Edge adding another triumph in that race in 2005 under a young Keith Mercer.
A third Scottish National came in 2007 courtesy of Hot Weld, who also won the-then Betfred Gold Cup (Whitbread Gold Cup) at Sandown just a week later - a race Murphy claimed twice, with Poker De Sivola obliging in 2011.
Murphy also struck in the 2004 Irish Grand National with Granit D’Estruval, with L’Antartique’s Paddy Power Gold Cup victory at Cheltenham in 2007 another significant achievement.
As well as training, his horseman’s instinct meant he was also an astute horse dealer – most notably with the purchase and sales of subsequent Cheltenham Festival winners Al Ferof and Cheltenian.
In the spring of 2013, Murphy relocated to France from his North Yorkshire stables. He continued his breeding business there, as well as buying and selling young stock, and training on a smaller scale.
He had five children - Barry, Paul, Caroline, Zoe and Rees – and is also survived by his partner Janet.
Even during the darkest days of a long battle with cancer which he fought tenaciously to the very end, Murphy, 70, remained optimistic – the word ‘grand’ became his trademark – and looking forward to his next winner.
Yet the sheer number of tributes to him this week, particularly from former staff at Wynbury Stables, spoke volumes about their respect for a trainer, friend and mentor who will always be remembered in the highest esteem.
The funeral will take place at noon on September 12 at St Clements Church, Cloughbawn, County Wexford.