Excellent balance is essential for any jockey. Fortunately for Oisin Murphy it’s a trait he demonstrates in and out of the saddle.
The rider crowned champion for the first time in 2019 is excited to be back in action on Monday after the frustration of kicking his heels during the shutdown but he’s realistic in his expectations as the sport takes baby steps to get back up and running.
Murphy, 24, has a massive chance of landing a first Classic when he rides third-favourite Kameko in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas six days into the sport’s behind-closed-doors restart but experience has taught him not to let expectations run too free.
Oisin Murphy rode 220 winners from 1,106 rides in Britain to secure his first title
The Irishman, who rode 220 winners from 1,106 rides in Britain to secure his first title, said: ‘I think Frankie Dettori will miss the crowds but some of us will be absolutely fine.
‘We are looking forward to riding really good horses and buzzing off the thought of that. The racing instinct will kick in.’
Life for a jockey will be different:face masks, temperature tests and no showers or saunas. ‘The jockeys are going to split in specific groups and then we will have our area when we change,’ Murphy said. ‘It’s for the peace of mind of everyone that we are taking every measure necessary.
‘I’ll be at Newcastle on Monday and Kempton on Tuesday. Although I am normally Britain’s busiest jockey, during this period I will be as busy as I can be but I won’t be having 10 rides a day.
The 24-year-old has been passing the time during the shutdown by keeping fit
‘To start with, it will be limited to 12-horse fields and trainers will have their loyalties with certain jockeys, which is perfectly understandable.
‘I imagine I will be going racing most days for five or six rides but I still think I ride for enough people to hopefully pick up enough rides to give the championship my best shot again.’
Murphy admits he is champing at the bit to get back in action. ‘I have been completely unemployed for two months. Netflix wore off after a few weeks and I have been passing the time walking and trying to keep on top of my fitness.’
He tried socially-distanced cycling with colleague Tom Marquand and a couple of other jockeys but their relentless pedalling soon made it a long- distance, socially-distanced exercise. ‘They cycle for miles and miles and I couldn’t keep up so I threw in the towel pretty quickly.
Murphy is realistic in his expectations as the sport takes baby steps to get back up and running
‘I have been doing loads of cooking but I don’t think I have improved too much. Salmon and mashed potatoes have been the staple diet.
‘For the first six weeks of lockdown I could hardly ride out but in the last fortnight I have been able to go into different stables to give me a feel of some horses and that gives me a focus to my day.’
Most observers reckoned it was when, not if, Murphy became champion jockey since he arrived at the Hampshire stable of Kameko’s trainer Andrew Balding. A whirlwind first professional season in Britain in 2013 included a memorable 9,260-1 four-timer on Ayr Gold Cup day, including victory on Balding’s Highland Colori in the feature race.
A year later, Murphy, nephew of three-time Cheltenham Gold Cup winning jockey Jim Culloty, was champion apprentice and by 2016 he had been appointed first jockey to the powerful Qatar Racing operation of Sheik Fahad Al Thani and his brothers.
Life for a jockey will be different face masks, temperature tests and no showers and saunas
But being champion does not mean Murphy looks in the mirror and sees a different person.
He said: ‘Confidence in jockeys is completely controlled by how they believe they are riding at that minute and that is controlled by results.
‘Anyone knows that sometimes you get out of bed in the morning and feel on top of the world, other days you don’t. But you have a duty to do the best you can for every owner and trainer. That’s the type of mantra I try to maintain but we are all human at the end of the day. You don’t feel you are riding brilliantly every single day, particularly if you have been beaten on horses you thought you should be winning on.’
Classic victory on Kameko would be special for Murphy given Balding and Sheik Fahad have been two of the most influential figures in his career. Unbeaten favourite Pinatubo stands in his way but Kameko garnered a sizeable fan club when he swept to a three-and-a- quarter-length win in the Group One Vertem Futurity Stakes at Newcastle in November.
The rider crowned champion for the first time in 2019 is excited to be back in action next week
Murphy, who has also picked up the ride on Jessica Harrington’s 2019 Cheveley Park Stakes winner Millisle in the 1,000 Guineas a week tomorrow, said: ‘We have massive respect for Pinatubo but Kameko is very exciting.
‘He has a lovely turn of foot but also relaxes which gives you plenty of options. He was incredible at Newcastle. It’s a stiff track and I could not pull him up after the line.
‘It would be massive to win but I’ve had these dreams before and been disappointed so I won’t get too excited just yet.
Murphy, 24, has a massive chance of landing a first Classic in the Qipco 2,000 Guineas
‘I know I am only 24 but I have ridden in group races since I was 18 so I am well able to cope with disappointments when it doesn’t go how you had dreamt.’
Coping with all that is thrown at them will have to be the motto for all sportsmen this disrupted year.
Well-balanced Murphy will be better equipped than most.