‘Beyond my wildest dreams’ – long season pays ultimate dividend for Murphy

Oisin Murphy remains the champion British Flat jockey after ending the 2020 campaign on a tally of 153 victories.

His title challenge has been a hard-fought affair at times, with runner-up William Buick gradually eating away at his lead during a season that has been hugely successful for Godolphin, for whom Buick is a retained rider.

Murphy has a retainer of his own, however, and it is this partnership with Qatar Racing and his close association with Andrew Balding that has enabled him perform his usual balancing act between quality and quantity.

His alliance with Balding’s Cheveley Park winner Alcohol Free recommenced with a win in the Group Three Fred Darling Stakes in April, a victory that did not further his title challenge due to its place on the calendar but one that paved the way for two Group One triumphs later in the season.

The first of those came in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, after which the filly beat a field that included colts and geldings in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood in July.

Murphy after winning his third Flat jockeys championship
Murphy after winning his third Flat jockeys championship (Steven Paston/PA)

Royal Ascot provided Murphy with another significant winner in the shape of Berkshire Shadow, also trained by Balding, who struck at 11-1 to take the Group Two Coventry Stakes on the opening day of the meeting.

In May Murphy then stepped in to take the ride on Ed Walker’s Starman, a colt whose usual rider Tom Marquand was unavailable for the Duke of York Stakes as he was obliged to partner Nahaarr for his employer William Haggas.

Murphy capitalised on what was an enviable opportunity, prevailing by a neck to beat Marquand and Nahaarr into second place on the line.

Saeed bin Suroor’s Benbatl is a horse Murphy is better acquainted with as the pair have enjoyed seven wins together, the most recent of which was the Group Two Joel Stakes at Newmarket in September.

Alcohol Free after her Sussex Stakes victory
Alcohol Free after her Sussex Stakes victory (John Walton/PA)

Benbatl is owned by Godolphin, the employer of Murphy’s chief challenger Buick, and just as the rivalry between the two jockeys was beginning to heat up in late September ​Murphy parted ways with Oasis Gift in the paddock at Newbury, colliding with a section of railing and injuring his face after the filly bucked and then attempted to bolt out of the parade ring.

He was stood down for the remainder of the meeting but returned to action the next day, riding with a mask on initially to protect the stitches to his face.

While Buick had been gifted a window in which to rack up a handful of successes in the absence of his competitor, Murphy pulled himself off the ropes and scored a Group One triumph when taking the Prix Marcel Boussac at ParisLongchamp on Andre Fabre’s Zellie just three days later.

There were further bumps in the road, however, with the Irishman then failing a breathalyser test on the first day of Newmarket’s Cesarewitch meeting.

He was subsequently unable to take his opening day rides, a significant loss of winning chances at a point when Buick was within 11 wins of catching him.

Murphy was able to return to the saddle the next day and did so with aplomb, landing the Cesarewitch itself aboard Nicky Henderson’s Buzz and again demonstrating his ability to come back swinging even when the hardship faced is self-inflicted.

Chelmsford’s evening meeting on October 14 posed another late threat to his title hopes as Murphy was thrown from Bin Suroor’s Discover Dubai, who was fatally injured when falling two furlongs from home.

Murphy and Buzz (left) winning the Cesarewitch
Murphy and Buzz (left) winning the Cesarewitch (Tim Goode/PA)

The jockey was unharmed, however, and arrived at Ascot’s season finale with a three-winner lead over Buick thanks to an invaluable double at Haydock on Friday. A competitive book of four rides across the six races offered further security.

His first mount, Archie Watson’s Dragon Symbol, failed to fire when 14th in a renewal of the Champions Sprint Stakes won by Buick and Creative Force, but as neither rider was successful in the following five contests the scoreline stayed at 153 – 151 in favour of Murphy.

“It’s beyond my wildest dreams, thank you very much to Sheikh Fahad and his brothers and his whole family,” Murphy said.

“Qatar Racing has been my job for a couple of years, but in order to win jockeys’ championships I need free rein to go where I please and where the best opportunities are.

“It’s fantastic to lift this trophy again, it’s a dream come true.”

Murphy's upper lip was stitched together after his fall from Oasis Gift at Newbury
Murphy’s upper lip was stitched together after his fall from Oasis Gift at Newbury (Nigel French/PA)

Of his colleague and rival Buick, the rider said: “William is one of the best riders in the world and it’s been very tough, he’s a tremendous competitor with a fantastic job.

“I think after the last fortnight at least, you could see with every winner that William was clawing back, I was doing my best to bounce back but the opportunities weren’t there and unfortunately that’s the way it is sometimes.

“Charlie Appleby had a lot of maidens to run and I didn’t have those horses, I managed to eke out enough and that’s down to my agent as well.

“Thanks to all my trainers and owners for putting me on winners, this is what it’s all about.”

A fourth title is very much Murphy’s aim for next season, with a spell contesting all the key overseas meetings the immediate plan before the 2022 turf campaign kicks off.

“I’m 26 years old and I still feel like a child so I’ll have to keep trying for a few more years,” he said.

“We still have lots of maidens to run in the next few weeks or so, followed by the Breeders’ Cup and then the Hong Kong International, Bahrain, Saudi, all the big meetings will keep coming up into the spring next year.

“I’ll try to find some more fast horses to line up for next season.”

Despite speaking candidly about an occasionally turbulent campaign that has seen Murphy tested both physically and mentally, the reigning champion was hopeful that the performances on the track at Ascot were not overshadowed by stories about his own tribulations.

“My ambition is that when you open the papers tomorrow you can focus on the equine stars on show today, I know Adayar wasn’t at his best but he did line up for the Arc two weeks ago,” he said.

“We’ve had some fantastic racing, I think Baaeed is one of the best milers around – write about him.”

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