OISIN MURPHY has already won over the Ladbrokes St Leger course and distance this week after partnering 2015 Classic heroine Simple Verse to an unforgettable victory from the most unpromising of positions in the home straight.
However, the former champion apprentice knows it will take an even more special performance by Ormito, his mount in today’s renewal of the world’s oldest Classic, to beat Aidan O’Brien’s odds-on favourite Idaho and John Gosden’s Muntahaa, the mount of two-time champion jockey Paul Hanagan.
Do not write off Ormito as Murphy prepares for his first St Leger. The jockey is in the form of his life, closing in on his 100th win of the calendar year, and will be reunited with Andrew Balding – the trainer, son of the legendary Ian and brother to TV’s Clare, who gave this flourishing young talent his big break three years ago when the jockey made the move across the Irish Sea.
The jockey, who celebrated his 21st birthday on Tuesday, hopes to be placed at worst and regards his chance, like his first rides in the Epsom Derby and 2000 Guineas, as experience for the time when – with luck – he lines up in a Classic on a mount with a favourite’s chance.
“Ormito is a horse that likes to settle in and then finish off his races well,” Murphy told The Yorkshire Post. “They are bound to go a very nice gallop and, hopefully, we will be able to pick some off in the home straight. I think Idaho and Muntahaa will be very hard to beat, but, hopefully, we have a chance of being in the first three.
“It’s nice to ride for Andrew. I was 15 when I was with Tommy Stack, and 16 when I went to Aidan O’Brien’s. When I was old enough to get my licence, my uncle Jim Culloty (the Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey and trainer) and Mr O’Brien decided it would be best to head to England because there are so many young lads in Ireland looking for a break.
“They sent me to Andrew’s and there were nine apprentices and four – Thomas Brown, Joey Haynes, Jack Garritty and Daniel Muscutt – have ridden out their claims. You get opportunities because there are so many horses and they are not afraid to put you up. Andrew gives horses a chance to mature and there are a lot of backward two-year-olds who become really good at three or four and then sell really well at the sales and do well over National Hunt. There are also older horses, like the former Racing Post Trophy winner Elm Park, still to come back. It’s exciting.”
Murphy’s primary role is as retained rider to Qatar Racing – he became senior jockey at the turn of the year and the DFS Park Hill Stakes win on Simple Verse was probably his most significant to date in these famous crimson colours with gold tassels.
Even though Simple Verse was the best horse in the race, the O’Brien-trained Pretty Perfect seized a significant lead in the home straight and Murphy had to make up several lengths in a frantic finish after being left ‘boxed in’ at a critical moment. If the line had come a stride earlier, he would have been beaten – evidence of the fine margins between success and failure in racing.
It is why Murphy has teamed up with Qipco – sponsor of the British Champions Series – to provide a jockey’s perspective of the St Leger which was first run in 1776 and starts alongside Bawtry Road before the long climb to the summit of Rose Hill.
The start, says Murphy, is important – even though the St Leger, run over a mile-and-three-quarters, is the longest Classic and takes just over three minutes to complete from start to finish.
“It’s very important, when you jump out of the gate, to get somewhere close to the rail so not to be covering extra ground,” he says. “Obviously it’s very competitive and the best jockeys manage to get in and often you find the worst horses are stuck out wide.”
Murphy, whose breakthrough moment came three years ago this month courtesy of a 9,260-1 four-timer on Ayr Gold Cup day and 390-1 treble on Town Moor, says Rose Hill can be where races like the St Leger are won and lost.
“This is the most important part of the race,” says the young tactician. “You don’t want to be behind a horse going backwards,” explained Murphy about the importance of not losing too much ground in this stamina test.
Yet, perversely, jockeys should not try and hit the front too soon: “It’s a very long straight and the horse making the running will often get attacked early. You get thrown off the turn for home often and start racing up the middle of the track. At two furlongs, that’s when you start racing and you give them a good squeeze and finish as close as possible, pushing them out right to the line.”
That’s what Oisin Murphy did when the gaps finally opened for Simple Verse on Thursday and the after-burners, fuelled by this beautifully balanced jockey in the saddle, kicked in to devastating effect.
He has promised himself a 21st birthday party to remember at the end of the season to celebrate this win. The party will be even greater if the guest of honour is entitled to wear the St Leger cap, the prize traditionally given to the winning jockey.