Oisin Murphy: from boy wonder to Classic winner to being 'out of control'
As the nephew of Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning rider and trainer Jim Culloty, Oisin Murphy had it in his blood to be a star of the weighing room.
Spells with Tommy Stack and at Ballydoyle with the legendary Aidan O'Brien helped set him on that path, but it was across the Irish Sea – rather than his homeland – where he would make his big impact both on and off the track.
Shortly after his 17th birthday in the autumn of 2012, the Killarney native made the move to Andrew Balding's Kingsclere yard, the most renowned finishing school for churning out top-class apprentices.
A trickle of winners quickly became a flood and Murphy, quietly making a name for himself in 2013, exploded into racing's consciousness with a remarkable 9,260-1 four-timer at Ayr's Gold Cup meeting that year.
The next season he emulated star Kingsclere alumni William Buick and David Probert by becoming champion apprentice, and a first Group victory came in Haydock's Temple Stakes aboard Hot Streak.
That horse raced in the colours of the emerging Qatar Racing, whose frontman Sheikh Fahad Al Thani became a huge supporter of Murphy and by 2016 the young jockey had replaced Andrea Atzeni as their main rider. By then he had landed his first Classic – the German 2,000 Guineas on Karpino – and the Ebor on the Joe Tuite-trained Litigant.
His stock was rising almost as quickly as he was riding winners and a first century came that year, with 115 in Britain.
The sport embraced the fresh-faced youngster, who was open and generous with his thoughts and time, and flourished in his role as a public figure.
Murphy seemed the natural long-term replacement for Frankie Dettori, whose effervescence had carried the sport to wider audiences. Racing and Murphy: it seemed the perfect match.
The sudden ascent, perhaps coupled with a willingness to engage that might have been at odds with established weighing room culture, may not have endeared Murphy to all his colleagues, and he was on the receiving end of a somewhat cruel putdown from Ryan Moore during a stewards' inquiry at Glorious Goodwood in 2017, broadcast live on television.
But his star continued to rise. Murphy won his first top-level race on Aclaim in the Prix de la Foret and he was developing into a go-to rider for many, marrying quantity via his first jockeys' title in 2019 with quality in the form of Roaring Lion, who provided him with a string of major triumphs in 2018.
In the summer of 2019, a year in which he showcased his talents to new fans when winning the Japan Cup on Suave Richard, the first shadow fell, when Murphy was not able to ride at Salisbury after failing a breath test.
By 2020 a pattern of dark and light was emerging. There was another sweet strike with a 2,000 Guineas claimed on Kameko in the maroon of Qatar Racing and for mentor Balding. It was the highlight of a season that ended with a second title, but before the trophy could be lifted there was the seismic shock of a positive cocaine test in France that eventually resulted in a three-month ban.
The gloss had been removed from Murphy's public persona. Racing's golden child had a mark against his name. Worse was to come.
Through much of 2021 Murphy was locked in a fierce championship tussle with William Buick. He won it but his coronation on Qipco British Champions Day – a meeting sponsored by his employer – came just hours after newspapers reported that a failed breath test at Newmarket one week earlier had been preceded by an ugly altercation in a pub the previous night.
The slope Murphy found himself on remained slippery. In December he was revealed to have broken the sport's Covid rules. On Tuesday an independent judicial panel gave its verdict on those transgressions and his alcohol breaches.
"I'm afraid I caused a great amount of damage to my reputation along the way," Murphy told the panel.
That damage has been significant. There will be a collective wish across racing that a brilliant jockey's rollercoaster ride will in future have many more ups than downs.
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