Aussie stint helps Oisin shoot for Derby glory

Jim Culloty tells a story of the time that he sounded out Andrew Balding about taking on his nephew Oisin Murphy as an apprentice.

"He suggested that he might be better off somewhere else, because there was a lot of competition there for rides," the Gold Cup-winning trainer begins.

"So I said to him, 'well, tell me this, would the best lad get the best chances or would the lad who is there longest get the best chances?' He said, 'oh, the best rider will get the best chances,' and I said to him, 'well, Oisin will be alright so'."

Murphy is vindicating his uncle's faith in spectacular style. Less than a year after riding his first winner for Balding – Imperial Glance at Salisbury on June 16 – the 18-year-old will bid to emulate Lester Piggott, Walter Swinburn and Joseph O'Brien by achieving Derby glory as a teenager.

Okay, winning it might be a bit of a stretch for the 150/1 shot that he has been booked to ride at Epsom, but the point is that it was he whom Ed Dunlop opted for above all the other available riders to steer Red Galileo. That is a reflection of how far Murphy has come in such a short space of time.

"I am just very fortunate to have got so much support," Murphy says now of his meteoric ascent. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Riding in the Derby is obviously something you dream about, but there is always a fear that dreams won't come true so it is a great thrill to get this opportunity."

Murphy has ridden only once for Dunlop, when Oasis Fancy was just denied at Brighton last week after getting caught in a pocket. The three-pound claiming apprentice's contrite reaction to the defeat is typical of the sort of the driven yet polite individual that we are gradually getting to know.

"I apologised and it is nice that he is giving me another opportunity," the Killarney-born rider explains understatedly, though it is doubtful that Dunlop expected as much.

The Newmarket trainer of Epsom heroines Ouija Board and Snow Fairy has saddled 24 Group or Grade One winners. Murphy won't have ridden in a Group One until he takes the mount on Beacon Lady in the Coronation Cup before the Derby on Saturday, but Dunlop was undeterred.

He had watched the way Murphy performed under pressure on Hot Streak in Haydock's Temple Stakes, bucking out and riding his own race from the get-go. No hiding place. Murphy seized the initiative, and it is that tactical courage and self-assurance that impressed Dunlop.

Asked if Saturday's occasion will be more overwhelming, he is philosophical. "You can only prepare as best as you can, and I'm not one to get nervous," the 5ft 5ins tall rider muses calmly. "Obviously I have had to deal with some stuff like that already, riding in big races in Australia and in the Temple Stakes, when Hot Streak was favourite.


"So there was pressure on those days as well, but you learn to deal with that and thankfully I have been able to so far. If you believe in the horse, you will always give it the best ride you can, and it is in the lap of the gods after that."

His short winter stint with well-known Australian handler Danny O'Brien was meant to be a formative mission to hone the clock in his head. Instead, Murphy rode 13 winners, proving a huge success in a notoriously tough riding environment. Same as he ever has.

He left home at 14 to spend two years with Culloty while simultaneously studying for his Leaving Certificate in Buttevant's Colaiste Mhuire, doing summer stints with Tommy Stack and Aidan O'Brien. Culloty was and remains his guiding hand.

After watching Murphy progress through the show jumping and flapping ranks alongside fellow rising star Connor King, he felt that his old friend Balding would be better placed to supply the rides required to get him going. Murphy joined the renowned Kingsclere yard in October 2012.

He drove Balding's Highland Colori to a rousing Ayr Gold Cup victory last September, then won the next three races to complete a barnstorming 9,260/1 four-timer. A whirlwind maiden season finished with a whopping total of 41 winners and third place in the apprentices' championship.

Balding had moved to restrict him to riding in races worth €10,000 or more, stating that he didn't want his allowance used up on the cheap before Royal Ascot this year. His protege might just get there with some of his allowance to play with, but he is only 11 short of the critical 95-winner mark.

At last year's Epsom meeting, he led up in his role as a stable lad. This time he will participate in the most famous Flat race in the world, already seven clear in the apprentices' title race. The transition from precocious apprentice to fully fledged jockey is a minefield strewn with cautionary tales, but Murphy knows as much.

"Of course it will be harder when I lose my claim and that could be a struggle, but we will face that when it comes," he says. "You can only deal with the present and hope the future pans out well."

Chances are things will pan out just fine. "He was always an exceptional rider, and he is also very intelligent," Culloty concludes. "There was never any doubt he was going to leave me down."

Story by Irish Independent, to veiw full story click here

Photo by Bruno Cannatelli, to view Bruno's website click here