Last week, I sat down and spoke to three-time champion flat jockey Oisin Murphy, to get his take on what life has been like away from racing, what he’d been up to, and how he was preparing for the season ahead.
The chance to interview him all started in March this year when I posted an article about Oisin, the issues he had been facing and what needed to change within the sport. Soon after, I received a notification on Twitter that Oisin had recognised the post and liked it. I messaged him on Instagram to thank him for his engagement and to get his opinion on the article, and then to put forward the idea of a Q&A.
Fast forward seven months, and here's the result - the first part of a wide-ranging interview as Oisin prepares to return to the track from a 14-month riding ban.
I hope you enjoy it…
How has it been being away from the track for so long?
"Firstly, it's been very strange, as I suppose everyone can imagine. At 27 years of age, I never saw myself not being able to do what I love for such a long period of time. It's definitely given me the opportunity to feel like a normal person. I've gone to lots of weddings and I can wake up on a Monday and take the dog for a walk and just do very simple things, rather than rushing around flying all over the world and dealing with the pressures and stress that come with wanting to be successful. There have to be some positives to being out for a length of time, but I'm very eager to do well when I return on February 16th."
Is it nice being a normal person for a change and not having to worry about the pressures of being a jockey?
"Yeah, and I'm pleased you've brought it up. I mean, I've gone months without getting on the scales whereas usually, it's the first thing I do when I fall out of bed in the morning, so that's been a weight off my mind. It’s the same for most jockeys. The day is built around what weight you get up at in the morning."
We know that you’ve faced a couple of issues, which is why you've been off the track. Are they behind you now? Is everything under control moving forward?
“Thankfully, I've been sober since 8th October 2021 so I've done over a year now, but at the same time, it's one day at a time. I read a really good quote about a year ago when I'd been sober for a couple of weeks, and it was before I went to the Breeders' Cup and it stuck with me. It was: When you're driving a car you spend the majority of the time looking out of the windscreen, you only use your wing mirror to look back or to see what people are coming from behind you. That's a much smaller mirror than the glass you're looking through going forward, so I try to use that every day and take it as I've got a massive future ahead of me. I'm only 27, so this is hopefully a fresh start for me. I know if I get through the day each day without picking up a drink, that's a good day, and I have lots of mini-wins along the way. The show jumping and riding in general has been essential and pivotal to my recovery and has given me a sense of satisfaction and competitiveness, you know?"
I’ve seen that you’ve been doing some show jumping. Is that just something you’ve done on the side? Or do you see it as a potential future career?
“I loved to ride as a child and I had lots of ponies. I looked up to a lot of international show jumpers because some of the best riders in the world are Irish, and many of them base themselves in Britain and mainland Europe. I learned German and French in school with the hope that maybe one day I could train with some foreign riders and ride at a high level, but then I started riding out racehorses and exercising them, and my path took a different direction. In June last year, I rode in a show jumping competition at Hickstead for fun, and then when I got suspended I decided to buy some show jumping horses. I don't ride as well as I'd like to ride but I absolutely love it, and I get a great thrill out of thinking I'm improving and I'm getting the horses to work in a way that I think is good. It's an incredibly different sport to racing, but it's one I really enjoy, and with the future in mind, I think unless you're a very, very talented rider, it's difficult to make a living from it, but I'd most certainly like to be able to do it as a pastime. I obviously know that when I'm riding flat out during the season and I’m back in the full swing of things, my time will be limited, but I'm okay with that. John Whitaker is in his late sixties and he still rides at the top level and represents Britain, so I'm not in any rush.”
I know you’ve also been doing some punditry recently. Is that something you’ve enjoyed?
“Most certainly I'd prefer to be riding, but I was very grateful to Sky Sports Racing for giving me a chance at Royal Ascot as it gave me a reason to be there, and also it gives me an opportunity to keep my head in the game and a reason to keep watching. Obviously, I've been riding out for Andrew Balding and Ed Walker and lots of other trainers in the mornings because I still love riding horses, but the different aspect of television is good for me. I'm going to Australia for the Melbourne Cup where I'll be doing some television work as well, but I quite enjoyed it and I feel like my insight might be interesting to people.”
Did you find it easy to put your opinion across on television?
"I find it relatively easy. I literally just say what I think, you know? When I'm answering your questions it's the same and I don't overthink my answers. Obviously, you've got to be careful. Everyone has their personal preferences for horses and you don't want to annoy connections of any horse, but I just say it as it is."
Has anything you’ve said come back to bite you? Have any other jockeys etc given you any stick?
“If I have something to say about a jockey's ride, I explain why I've said it. For example, if a rider moves too early on a horse and hits the front and then gets run down late, I think we all have to accept those errors. I've made numerous of those errors myself and it's one I can easily pick up on and discuss. I think once you do that in a fair way, jockeys can't really moan at you.”
Horsepower is out on Amazon Prime now. Did you enjoy watching it back? Have you had a positive response from it?
“Yeah, incredibly positive. I've had so many messages on social media from people that hadn't messaged me before. Obviously, I've had a little bit of presence on Twitter and Instagram over the last four or five years, so the fact that people were comfortable saying that they really enjoyed the show was a huge relief for me. Whilst they were filming, I got so used to it that I didn't take any notice. I will say, and it hasn't had any advertising, Horsepower, so I'm unsure what viewing figures we have, but it's very real. We didn't try to dramatise anything, and it wasn't scripted, so everything you see is how it is. There are bits I wish they could include. For example, in the Paddock, I was all mic’d up at Royal Ascot for every single race. I think the insight that racing fans and even people who aren't into racing could get from how I communicate with the trainer and owner before I ride, and also after the race when they win and lose, I think it would be really good. I mentioned that to the Horsepower people at the time and they didn't include that, but, you know, I would be very hopeful if Horsepower is successful enough, they might do another one and make it even better."
Do you think showing more of the behind-the-scenes would appeal to people even more?
“Yeah, and the good and the bad, you know? There are conversations where I'm very unhappy or I'm quite stressed. I think we got a little snippet of it when I lost the race on Dragon Symbol and then had to go and ride Alcohol Free, but if you could listen to the full conversation, most of my briefs before and after a race are like 90 seconds, so I don't think we would lose the concentration of the audience. I think, if anything, it would be captivating.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed part one of this interview. Be sure to stay tuned for part two, which includes comments on Oisin’s plans moving forward, his aims for the upcoming flat season, and a message to racing fans.