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Oisin Murphy is tagged as racing’s bad boy but he’s looking get his career and life back on track

Oisin Murphy is seen as a bad boy of Flat Racing. He’s one of the best riders in the world, but he keeps getting into trouble. He has been banned from racing for 14 months for violating coronavirus protocols by going to Mykonos and he failed two alcohol tests last year.

Murphy now takes some time, as he puts it, to think. This year was the first time in his career at Royal Ascot without his riding boots. I find him in the Parade Ring on Ladies Day. He is an obsessive horse and immediately starts talking me through the details as the jockeys begin to mount.

“It’s a very hot day, so it’s normal for the horses to sweat,” he says in his thick Irish accent, pointing to the foam beginning to appear under the saddle pads. “But it’s so important to keep them as calm as possible.

Oisin Murphy is currently serving a 14-month suspension for violating coronavirus protocols

Oisin Murphy is currently serving a 14-month suspension for violating coronavirus protocols

“You’d get a stunned elephant excited for a race like this, especially with everything going on. There is noise everywhere, people are everywhere and these racehorses are incredibly sensitive.’

He describes some of the horses with as much fame as if they were his own. No 2 is very well paraded, very quiet which is good to see but her jockey will have to keep her calm until the start to give her the best run.

‘Instinct is key. You may have been told that you would like to take a prominent position in the race, but if your horse has been enthusiastic at the start you may decide it is better to take your time because if you don’t , the horse will not have the energy at the important moment in the race.

“Once you get on that horse in the paddock, you have to stop thinking about everyone, and just think about yourself, and at that point ‘yourself’ means you and the horse, because now you’re combined – one unit. †

Does he get to know every horse he rides? He smiles. “In 2019 I rode 1,200 individual horses in England and about 20 per cent of those I had ridden before. I would make friends with the rest, from the paddock to the stands. A good jockey can sense what the horse needs and adapt to the collaboration.’

However, the Flat racing champion is already thinking about getting his life and career back on track

However, the Flat racing champion is already thinking about getting his life and career back on track

Murphy has accomplished a lot for a 26-year-old. In 2019 he won 220 races in Great Britain to become British Flat Racing Champion Jockey, a title he has not yet relinquished, having won 144 races in 2020 and 183 in 2021. Since he started his professional career in 2013 began, he has won 22. Group One races all over the world, from Japan to Canada and the United Arab Emirates.

Early in his career, top Australian coach Danny O’Brien predicted that Murphy would not only be successful, but also revolutionize driving tactics on the Flat. From the age of 20, he was the only jockey retained by Qatar Racing, and he is still supported by Sheik Fahad Al Thani and Sheik Hamad Al Thani, who have become his friends.

For a novice racer like me, it seems like there isn’t a race Murphy hasn’t won, which is all the more impressive given his second great passion – alcohol. His reputation as a winner is almost overshadowed by his fame as a heavy drinker and his love of partying.

I first met him on a scavenger hunt in Wiltshire, where he was riding a horse as a favor to a friend. That day my horse stood in front of a row of hedges extremely chilled. I got quite nervous. He came riding next to me and managed to calm both me and the horse. In the times I have seen him ride I have found that he is able to connect with horses and meet them at their level, whether they are about to do a team pursuit or a Grand Prix jump course in Hickstead.

In addition to Flat racing, he also jumps at a very high level and he is not excluded from participating in that discipline. This week he is competing in the Speed ​​Derby in Hickstead where he tells me he is very lucky because he is on the best horse in the class.

Pictured with Frankie Dettori, Murphy is a popular figure among those in the racing paddock

Pictured with Frankie Dettori, Murphy is a popular figure among those in the racing paddock

‘I’ll need it because I’m a complete amateur,’ he laughs, ‘but one of the advantages of my job is that I have access to the most amazing horses and have had wonderful people who have trained me. I’m seriously looking forward to it – I love it!’ I get the impression that his genuine love for all things horse related is a big key to his success. Where does he think he would be without horses? “I have no idea,” he says, “I can’t imagine life without horses.”

Once a week, he works with Riding for the Disabled, who give riding lessons to people with developmental and physical disabilities. “I started working with them in Chilton Foliat. There are many people of different ages and degrees of disabilities who really enjoy driving and it helps them a lot. And selfishly, it helps me because I feel like I’m making a difference in these people’s lives by sharing my greatest passion with them. I just run next to them to trot and some of them can gallop as well.

“Horses have been a constant source of stability and when I’ve been in dark times it’s helped me a lot to be around a horse or get on a horse, and I can see that for people with disabilities it’s sitting on a horse does something wonderful for them. I see a new side to those who bring the horses out and that really touches me.’

At this point the horses head out onto the track and Murphy and I head to the winning line to watch the race. As we walk through the crowd, he jokes with people and compliments women on their dresses with a slight smile and a sassy look in his eyes.

Murphy and his girlfriend Lizzy are pictured at Royal Ascot in June

Murphy and his girlfriend Lizzy are pictured at Royal Ascot in June

‘He certainly has a gift for words,’ his friend Lizzy tells me, ‘he likes to make everyone laugh.’ He has an infectious sense of fun and is amused by anything rude and ridiculous that makes him fun to be around. I wonder how this would have worked if he was drinking.

“Failing to pass the breath test in October forced me to address the issue,” he says. “I drank so much that I regularly blacked out and the next morning I got up early and probably still drove off drunk. That lifestyle was not sustainable and I have disappointed many people.

“Racing Welfare was in touch and my employers were all trying to help me with my drinking problem, but I wasn’t really in control and it made my life unbearable. I watch it day by day now. If I can get through today without drinking, that’s a success.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I’m excited to come to racing, and excited to go to Hickstead. I feel for the first time that I have so much to look forward to, which I haven’t in recent years. If I didn’t ride winners every day it was a bad day and even when I did it was still a bad day.

‘I don’t want anyone’s pity. I made some mistakes and now I’m bearing the consequences.’

Murphy isn’t the first jockey to be banned from the sport, and probably won’t be the last. Frankie Dettori, for example, was banned for six months after failing a drug test in 2012 and has spoken openly about cocaine use.

In 2020, Murphy was banned for three months after testing positive for cocaine in France. He later said it was because he had sex with a cocaine user the night before the test, which skewed the results.

Murphy is seen as a bad boy from Flat Racing, but he teams up with Riding for the Disabled, who give riding lessons to people with developmental and physical disabilities

Murphy is seen as a bad boy from Flat Racing, but he teams up with Riding for the Disabled, who give riding lessons to people with developmental and physical disabilities

Lizzy, who trains at Le Cordon Bleu and is the daughter of famed racehorse owner Bjorn Nielsen, seems to have a calming influence. “We met on this day two years ago, just after Stradivarius won the Gold Cup,” he says. “Her father (who owns Stradivarius) was throwing a drink and I’m his neighbor, so it made sense for me to drop by and celebrate with them.”

Does she find it difficult to deal with the constant rumor mill that circulates around his antics? Murphy says, “I don’t give her enough credit for how wonderful she’s been. She is extraordinary. Most people would have cracked under the control of social media, but she took it all on her own.

“It doesn’t affect me because I’ve gotten used to it, but most people do. The constant belittling and rumors and gossip. It’s endless, especially after such an event where I do a lot of interviews.’

If we meet Lizzy in her father’s box, I can ask her this myself. “Oisin is always at the center of a drama,” she says with a smile, “and while it can be annoying, part of the reason I love him is that he’s quite sassy and likes to mess around. So I guess that’s just part of it. But I know he’s a good man—otherwise I wouldn’t be with him.’

This interview was first published in Spectator Life.

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