From York to Epsom - Oisin Murphy aims for first Classic success on board Telecaster in the Derby

OISIN murphy’S horsemanship can be traced back to a childhood watching Jim Culloty, his uncle, make history by winning three successive Cheltenham Gold Cups on the legendary Best Mate.

Derby hope: Oisin Murphy partners Telecaster in the Epsom Derby.
Derby hope: Oisin Murphy partners Telecaster in the Epsom Derby.

He was – and still is – the retired rider’s No 1 fan. Yet today the tables will be reversed when Culloty, who went on to train Lord Windermere to win the Gold Cup, travels to Epsom today to watch his nephew ride in the Investec Derby.

Still Flat racing’s most prestigious prize, 23-year-old Murphy – third last year on Roaring Lion who went on to become horse of the year – partners the Hughie Morrison-trained Telecaster, who proved his credentials by winning York’s Dante Stakes just over a fortnight ago.

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It will not be easy. Owned by Castle Down Racing, this is just the colt’s fourth start – Telecaster only made his racecourse debut at Doncaster in late March.

Oisin Murphy's uncle Jim Culloty partnered Best Mate to three Gold Cup wins.

In a race of tactics, seven of the 13 runners – including the favourite, Sir Dragonet – are trained by Ireland’s all-conquering trainer Aidan O’Brien. No horse drawn two – Telecaster’s position at the start – has won the Derby since starting stalls were first introduced in 1967.

Yet 10 horses – the most recent being Golden Horn in 2015 – have completed the Dante-Derby double and Telecaster is bred for the job. His sire, New Approach, won the Epsom Classic in 2008 while the dam, Shirocco Star, was a narrow second in the 2012 Oaks.

Then there is all the experience that the cherubic and naturally gifted Murphy, this season’s leading Flat rider, has gleaned from watching Culloty – and living with his uncle – before moving to Britain to advance his burgeoning career.

Even now, they talk most days – they are best mates – with the conversation revolving around tactics, life as a jockey and the importance of Telecaster keeping his cool in the preliminaries today before the ultimate mile-and-a-half race.

“He was born two-and-a-half months premature and has been ahead of everything for all of his life,” Culloty told The Yorkshire Post in an exclusive interview. “He had a very good grounding. His parents supported him extremely well and I supported him when he was a lot older. They bought him a little pony which was virtulaly uncontrollable – and he learned on that.

“He’s a hard grafter. He’s extremely determined and he’s very bright. Most jockeys try to finish school at the earliest opportunity – but he was doing our equivalent of A-Levels when he was 16 or so.

“He was living with me and Susie, my then wife, at the time and she would lay down the law. She would tell him: ‘If you don’t do well in your exams, you won’t be able to ride out in the morning’. He learned.

“He also got a very good grounding because he spent a lot of time show-jumping and hunting before he got interested in racing. Even now, his Facebook page is full of clips of show-jumpers. It’s massive regarding horsemanship – Oisin is very good riding without his feet out of his irons in order to get a horse to settle.”

Culloty, who also won the 2002 Grand National on Bindaree, also cites his nephew’s modesty as another positive attribute. “He and Connor King were fighting it out for a pony racing championship – and someone said one of these two will be champion jockey one day. Oisin said ‘Connor King’,” recalled Murphy’s mentor.

“Oisin’s parents allowed him to live with me and Suzy for a couple of years when he had Lord Windermere and Spring Heeled, who also won at Cheltenham. From the start, racehorses never fazed him despite his slender frame.

“It was always a no-brainer that he would ride on the Flat. He has all the attributes, in that he is a very hard worker, very dedicated and is very bright. It’s not just on a horse. He knows the pedigrees, and form book, like the back of his hand. He is not lazy – you only have to say something once.”

Culloty – whose sister Maria is Murphy’s mother – also had a big say over where the young tyro should begin his professional career. Murphy was good enough, at a very tender age, to have a successful spell riding out for the aforementioned O’Brien at Ballydoyle.

Yet, conscious that opportunities would be limited, Culloty telephoned trainer Andrew Balding, whose Kingsclere stables are renowned for giving young riders a chance.

“Andrew said to me that he already had 10 kids on his books,” recalled Culloty. “I said ‘Who will have the best chance? The best rider or the fella near the top of the list?’ Andrew said ‘the best lad’. I said ‘take him’.

Six years later, Oisin Murphy is already rated and respected as one of the world’s best jockeys. The only omission from his CV is a first Classic win. As Culloty said, it is only a matter of time. “And I don’t think I need to advise him any more,” he added.