Trainer Murphy on the fast track to becoming a winner in his own right
Gordon Elliott’s former assistant has wasted no time since going out on his own, says Marcus Armytage
One of the most exciting aspects of the jump season so far has been the rise, from almost nowhere, of Olly Murphy. In a sport where even the “overnight” successes have often been in the game several years, the young Stratford trainer has given new meaning to the phrase “quick out of the blocks”.
Murphy went to Punchestown on April 29 for the last day of the Irish jump season in the role he had filled for the four previous years, assistant trainer to Gordon Elliott.
At that point of the day, Elliott was still leading Willie Mullins in the Irish trainers’ championship, although that was to change during the course of the afternoon. Two months later, on July 4, Murphy saddled his first Flat runner, Dove Mountain, a winner at Brighton, and, five days later, his first jump runner, Gold Class, won at Market Rasen.
Although orchestrating first winners is all part of the process, it was what happened next that has been astounding. Since then, he has had a further 15 winners under both codes, including an across-the-card fourtimer at Stratford and Newton Abbot.
Not even his old boss, who won the Grand National in 2007 with Silver Birch in his first season, set off at that pace, and suddenly “11 horses to run through the summer” have swollen to 51 horses and the stables could not go up quick enough.
Although the name is new, 26-yearold Murphy has not quite come from nowhere. His father is Aidan Murphy, a successful National Hunt bloodstock agent who buys most of Philip Hobbs’s horses. His mum, Annabel, has tickled away on the Flat as a trainer, having half-a-dozen winners a year for some three decades from the family home in Wilmcote, best known as the birthplace of Anne Hathaway, Mrs William Shakespeare.
Studying Hathaway’s husband’s works was never going to be high on young Murphy’s agenda. Much keener on the form book, he was already helping out as a jockeys’ valet in the weighing room aged 12 until health and safety put a stop to it, saying that he should not be so close to naked men. It does not seem to have scarred him too much.
He grew up with the Skelton boys who live two miles away, he rode in pony races, he spent 18 months with Alan King in an attempt to become a jockey and then two years with Chris Bealby riding pointers.
“I got heavy,” he recalled, “and I’d done a couple of summers with Gordon in Ireland when he offered me the job as assistant. I learnt more with him than I did in the first 22 years of my life.”
Apart from the training, he was with Elliott when the trainer moved from his first yard to Cullentra House, a run-down farm that Elliott converted into one of the best training facilities in Ireland, and while Murphy’s Warren Chase Stables was his parents’ rather more well-fitted stud, a state-of-the-art racing yard and gallops have nevertheless been built from almost scratch.
Where possible, from the Wexford-sand circular gallop and the schooling ring, to the American barns with extra height to improve ventilation, everything is based on the successful Elliott model.
“Gordon’s influence is everywhere,” said Murphy. “It’s a carbon copy; the feed, the bedding, the hours the lads work, 7.30am-4.30pm (rather than 6am-6pm with a long break in the middle of the day).
“I set out to be ambitious and a few, including my head lad Ed Telfer, a great friend, jumped on board hoping it would work.
“It was a massive gamble for him to leave William Haggas to come here – like leaving Manchester United to play for a little club.”
Despite his age, Murphy felt the time was right to leave Elliott’s at the end of last season. “It was one of those things,” he reflected. “If I’d stayed there another season, it would have ended up another 10. Gordon felt the timing was right, too.
“The last day was horrible. Everyone had worked so hard to make him champion. He said he’d help me and we speak most days.”
In the racing game, though, you make your own luck. He has been plucky at the sales, buying horses on spec without an owner in the wings and, having seen the early results, some of his father’s clients have sent him horses.
“I’m going to have to be patient now,” explained Murphy. “Half my string have never run before and won’t be out before the spring. A lot will take time and I’m under no illusions – I’ve been training three months and I’ve been away from England five years. I still need a lot of guidance.
“People have said having such a good start takes the pressure off but, if anything, it has increased it to keep it up. We had two seconds on Thursday and I was gutted, but if you like losing you shouldn’t be training horses.”
Winning focus: Olly Murphy says if you like losing you should not be training horses