By Jonathan Stettin
Although Oisin Murphy did not decide to become a jockey until he was 15 years old, you would be hard pressed to argue he was not born to be one. It is not just the excellent riding skills he has displayed so early in his career, nor the enormous success he’s had, it is also his background. Oisin grew up on a farm, and he was riding a pony at only 4 years old. He owned his first pony at just 7 years of age. Racing was in his blood as well, being the nephew of Jim Culloty, a steeplechase jockey who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times in addition to the Irish and English Grand Nationals.
Riding professionally since just 2013, Oisin Murphy has already put together quite the resume with major wins in races like The Eclipse Stakes, The Haydock Sprint Cup, The Juddmonte International, The Queen Elizabeth, The Sussex Stakes, The E. P. Taylor, The Dubai Turf, The Prix de la Foret, The Irish Champion Stakes and more. He has won major races in Ireland, England, France, Dubai, Canada and Germany. Roaring Lion, Lightning Spear, Aclaim, Blond Me, Benbatl, and The Tin Man are among the top horses he has piloted. When you look at Oisin Murphy on paper, it is quite remarkable to think he is in his early 20’s, and has only been competing on the big stage about 5 years.
I had the opportunity to meet Oisin Murphy briefly when he was in Louisville to ride in The Breeders’ Cup. Recently I had the chance to catch up with him to chat about his career. The first thing that struck me about Oisin was his knowledge of race riding and his professionalism. You can be a talented rider, but when you add those race riding skills, work ethic and professionalism you can become one very dangerous and successful individual in the saddle.
Jonathan Stettin: Although you grew up on a farm, and rode on a pony at 4, you didn’t decide to become a jockey until you were 15, what made or helped you decide?
Oisin Murphy: “My uncle stopped riding and he started to train when I was about 11. When I was 15 I went to live with him during my last two years of secondary school. That’s when I had a lot more exposure to racing and became much more interested and decided to become a jockey.”
Who are some riders you have looked up to or admired and which if any have helped you?
“I suppose I always looked up to Kieran Fallon. He is a bit of an icon in Ireland. I remember watching him win the Prix de Arc de Triomphe on Dylan Thomas. More recently Frankie Dettori has been an inspiration. Evan at his age he is probably one of if not the best rider in the world. He has always been helpful to me.”
Did you ever dream you would have an opportunity to ride a horse like Roaring Lion for John Gosden so early in your career?
“You always dream of riding a horse like Roaring Lion or one of his quality but no you can never expect it at any point. It will be extremely difficult to replace him or find another like him but I will do my best. Please God let 2019 be a healthy and successful year.”
What are the biggest differences you find riding on the turf in America as opposed to Europe?
“I have ridden on the turf at Del Mar and Churchill. The courses there as they are at most tracks in America are sharp and oval shaped. There is not a whole lot of time so you have to be on the ball. Position is everything. I enjoy riding in America. I hope to get on the score sheet at The Breeders’ Cup sooner than later.”
Do you regularly follow any stables, horses, or riders in the States? What about the races there in general?
“Yes I do. My friend Adam Beschizza is riding and doing very well in the States right now. I follow and admire Joel Rosario. Also the french riders Julian Leparoux, Florent Geroux, and Flavian Prat. I watch all the Grade 1 races there on dirt and turf. We have good coverage of them on television here in both Ireland and the U.K. It is easy to keep up. I also read TDN daily and follow a lot of the results.”
Is the Kentucky Derby on your radar as a race to win? What are some of the major races you have your sights set on?
“I know Ryan Moore really wants The Kentucky Derby and it is one of his biggest targets. I admire the American Triple Crown, all three races, The Kentucky Derby, The Preakness, and The Belmont Stakes. I think it takes a truly remarkable horse to win all three. Luckily you have had two horses do it recently. Personally I really want to win a Breeders’ Cup race on the dirt. Dirt is something I am familiar with from riding on it in Japan, Hong Kong, and Dubai, but I don’t really ride on it regularly. I am really focused on getting on that Breeders’ Cup score sheet, and I would love for it to be on the dirt.”
As you undoubtedly know great riders have great instincts and make great decisions in a race in a split second, Is there a race that sticks out to you where everything worked out as you planned or one where you did something you feel made the difference, or one that just stands out for any reason?
“Sometimes it is just keeping things simple really. Often it is having the confidence to sit a little bit further back than normal because you feel the horse is going to be comfortable there and relax a bit better there. When things work out you are always relieved and pleased. Sometimes you can finish second when you know you’ve given the horse the best ride and chance you possibly could and that is tough, second is hard to take. I got a very big kick out of winning The Juddmonte International. I didn’t have to do anything special, everything went very smooth and it is probably one of the most competitive races on ratings in Europe every year. Roaring Lion was remarkable that day. The Tin Man, Royal Marine, Benbatl, and Lightning Spear were all very special and all helped me in my career. I can’t thank all their connections enough.”
What do you find are the major differences between how dirt dirt and turf races are run?
Very simple really. On dirt the fastest bit of the race is going to be the first half or part, it will kind of depend on who stays on and who keeps going, who has had a smooth run or saved ground, on turf it tends to be slower especially mid-race, often the fastest part is between 600 and 100 meters, the last 100 meters comes down to which horse can stay on, on dirt the last 600 meters can be slow depending on surface and pace of course but usually that is how it will flow. The bottom line is turf races tend to be more evenly run, dirt races can be run at a frantic pace early.
Do you have a preference for riding on turf or dirt?
“Because I have less experience riding on dirt I actually get a kick out of riding and winning races on dirt at any level. It is a bit of an unknown for me and it keeps things interesting. At the moment I say dirt and hopefully I can get on a good horse in America in the coming years.”
With Roaring Lion going to stud, will you follow his offspring?
Yes. I will be following with excitement Roaring Lion, Hot Streak, Lightning Spear, and Aclaim. I’ve been successful on them and want to see them become successful sires.
Oisin won his first Group Race aboard Hot Streak in The Temple Stakes at Haydock back in May of 2014. They have been piling up since and I would think there are many more in his future. It was obvious he is looking for that first Breeders’ Cup win, putting him on the score sheet as he called it and having a hungry, talented, rider like that on the big stage would be an asset for any trainer, here or from Europe or anywhere. This young man is 100% an up and coming rising star in The Sport of Kings and he already has a resume many would envy. This should be a great career to watch and Oisin should be on your radar.