The big day has arrived, it’s the 4th July 2017, Brighton racecourse. Olly Murphy, the 25 year-old new boy to the training ranks, is about to saddle his first runner, Dove Mountain. 1m2f later and Murphy was plundering his first winner with his first competitor to take to the track.
A first double quickly followed at his local track, Stratford, before he returned to the racecourse synonymous with the Bard of Avon, to land a treble. This feat formed part of an across the card four-timer which took Murphy’s winning tally up to nine, remarkably just three weeks into his training career.
“It’s been unbelievable how well I’ve started, fairy-tale stuff really. I came back on the 1st of May and had my first runner just three weeks ago and already I’ve saddled 9 winners. It’s been magic.” Beamed Murphy, admitting he has been overwhelmed by the start he has had, and that it has been above and beyond even his wildest of dreams.
Of the four-timer, something which you can be forgiven for thinking was all part of the grand script that the Hollywood filmmakers are playing out from the Wilmcote countryside, the handler stresses this was just a chance to have local runners close to home.
“I nearly didn’t declare Mizen Master! Anything which the horses pick up now is a bonus and I’ve left plenty to work on.”
“Little do people believe me, but I’ve genuinely only got 15 or so horses to run! I think people get the impression I’ve started off with 40 horses sat outside ready to go out and win!”
Murphy comes steeped in racing pedigree. His father is one of the leading National Hunt Bloodstock agents and his mother has been a member of the training ranks for over 30 years. And having had his knowledge honed and groomed under the tutelage of Alan King and Gordon Elliott, there really should have been little doubt that the opening of Warren Chase as the home of Olly Murphy Racing would be anything other than an overwhelming success.
Now Murphy is in the process of constructing a Cullentra House replica, deep in the Warwickshire countryside, a stone’s throw away from the agricultural home of William Shakespeare’s mother.
You will find no hills here, Elliott doesn’t have any and neither does Murphy. Just one round 4 furlong gallop of imported Wexford sand, just like Elliott’s. It is a case of what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
Things are moving quickly for Olly Murphy Racing and the image of Warren Chase is set to change once again over the coming months, with plans in place for more barn’s to be erected to take stabling capacity close to 50 boxes.
“The Sky’s the limit, we’re expanding all the time. It’s all started so much quicker than I thought.”
“We’ll hopefully have 35 for the winter which is way more than I imagined, I’m just sat here pinching myself.”
“We’re a proper jumping yard. I don’t mind having a few flat horses for a bit of fun in the summer, but I’m a jumps man and that’s where my heart lies.”
He may have already exceeded his own expectations for his first year in training, but this hungry and ambitious young man is not one to rest on his laurels;
“I said to myself if I could train ten winners I would be over the moon, and three weeks in I’ve chalked up nine! So the challenge now is to keep these horses I have healthy and keep picking up the winners, keep placing them in the right races, and have plenty of fun.”
And he also talks of one of his favourite parts of the job, something he speaks passionately about, that of bringing fun into racing. He loves having winners for syndicates such as recently set up Olly Murphy Racing Club. This is something which gives the full ownership experience for less than £50 per month, less than most Sky TV packages these days;
“I think fun is crucial in racing, I love training syndicate horses and training for the smaller owners. I get a good kick out of trying to improve these somewhat lesser horses you might get sent and trying to give all my owners that winning feeling.”
“I’m realistic there are plenty I might not be able to get to the bottom of that might need to be sent to someone else, but I do get a buzz out of winning with a horse that has come to me with a poor strike rate.”
However, don’t let this fool you. Murphy is not just here for a good time, he is set to be around for a long time and is already working towards adding quality to his string with the intention of making a serious impact;
“Quality is what it is all about!” As much as numbers is a massive thing, you don’t want to be just training bad horses all your life if you can help it.”
“I’m lucky that I’ve got some brilliant people behind me that support me, and I’ve got some nice horses coming in to go to war with over the winter and some owners have spent some good money to back me.”
“I’m forever grateful for that and I just hope I can keep things going and repay their faith and support with winners.”
Timing is often crucial in life and it is interesting, that now, following Gordon Elliott’s most successful season training, was the time Murphy decided to go his own way;
“I was never going to go to Gordon’s for a lifetime. I very easily could have done because it was such a good place, but I’ve always wanted to train myself.”
“I’d spent four brilliant years in Ireland and after a long chat with Gordon, I kind of felt the time was right to come home, and he was fully behind me. It felt right to go out whilst Gordon was at the top”
“I’m just lucky to come back to lovely surroundings which I’m comfortable in, it’s my home and where I’ve grown up. I’m lucky I just have a small rent here in Wilmcote, which I cannot stress enough how important it is to remove some of the overheads. “
Elliott seems to have made a lasting impression on a humble and hardworking man, who has that steely determination and inner belief in his abilities, which leaves you in no doubt as to who is the main man in control at Warren Chase;
“It was the best four years of my life. Gordon is a genius at handling a racehorse. The important things I have learnt have come from him.”
“I try to keep everything here as straightforward and similar to how he did things over there. He stressed to me when I was leaving, not to overcomplicate things, stick to what I know and what I’d been taught and back myself to make it work.”
“He’s on the phone every day, he’s turned into one of my best friends as much as he was my boss and I look up to him and admire him a hell of a lot.”
Looking back further over the four years he spent at Cullentra House, it is clear Murphy acquired all the skills and knowledge he needed to succeed. The ability to deal with a high pressured environment was something which you have to adapt to quickly when working for one of Britain’s largest operations;
“It stood me in good stead massively, obviously I was dealing with big owners and top horses day in day out.”
“I actually had a great relationship with Michael and Eddie O’Leary, another two men I look up to greatly, and who do a great job in supporting Irish racing. They are hungry, hungry men that want winners and success which is something I can identify with.”
Does he see himself being able to twist the Ryanair boss’ arm to send one of his Gigginstown collection his way?
“Absolutely no chance! I wouldn’t be saying no though if the phone did ring!”
He also tips his hat to Alan King, the Barbury Castle handler who has also shaped Murphy’s racing upbringing;
“He’s a great trainer, with a great routine, the ultimate professional. I only worked for him for around 14 months but he’s still the only man in racing I would call the governor.”
For all the support he has in the background, and the obvious big named supporters at the other end of the phone, Murphy is very much the conductor of the small and select Warren Chase orchestra, steering his loyal staff in the right direction. A man who trusts his own convictions, he is very much the commander of the ship as he instructs one of his best friends, and head lad, Ed to take the next lot of horses for 2 easy circuits of the Wexford sand.
Staffing is crucial to the success of any racing operation, and Murphy looks to be building an impressive squad to have at his side;
“I advertised through panicking but funnily enough I haven’t had to employ anyone through an advert! That will probably change but for the minute I’ve been fortunate enough to have people want to come and work for me and I’ve been able to hand pick who I want.”
“Ed has been here since day one, he’s my head man, and someone who I can rely on 100%.”
“Tim Dennis has recently joined me from Philip Hobbs and he helps Ed. Charlotte Best has joined me from Charlie Longsdon’s and she can turn a horse out for the races second to none and is just as important to me as anyone.”
“We’ve also got some great lads who ride out, who know their horses and know exactly what they are on top of.”
When the topic of conversations turns to the raceday pilots entrusted with steering the equine inhabitants of Warren Chase to victory, the burning ambition to be the best is at its most obvious, as he states in no uncertain terms his attitude to jockey bookings;
“I’ll be using Richard Johnson as much as I can, he’s the champion and you can’t leave the top boys sat in the weighing room.”
“Charlie Poste and Ian Popham come in once a week and they have been a massive help to me and I’ll support them as much as I can.”
“But the lads know I’ll be using the best available. Whether that’s Johnson, Barry Geraghty, Noel Fehilly or Davy Russell, it’s silly to not use these lads if they are available. It’s the way Gordon operates and it’s how I’m going to do it.”
Throughout his time on the other side of the Irish Sea, Murphy helped oversee some of the halcyon days in the career of his Cullentra House boss. When harking back through the archives however it is a horse close to home which provided him with his proudest moment for Elliott;
“The one that stands out is Diamond King winning the Coral Cup. My dad buys all of Graham Whateley’s horses and looks after them, and he moved over to Ireland where Gordon did a great job readying him and the Cheltenham win was just magic.”
“It was a bit of a strange one at the time, as we had lost No More Heroes in the race before, who was a horse everyone thought a hell of a lot of. Everyone was down in the dumps and thinking it could be one of those weeks. And then Davy Russell came out and did what he does best and produced a magic ride at the right moment. Very special.”
It’s also difficult not to reflect on winning jump racing’s biggest prize, The Gold Cup;
“Don Cossack winning was a special, special day especially as people doubted the horse after falling in the King George. Being part of the six Festival winners this time around was also a very proud moment.”
A man of more self-indulgence would perhaps play up the role he played in his former job, especially in a season when Gordon Elliott took the battle for the Irish trainers Championship right down to the wire. But Murphy chooses the systematic route when analysing the last 12 months;
“Ammunition was key. We had a big group of horses and a top team led excellently by a genius in Gordon. A better quality of horse can take you a long way and last year was all the proof you need.”
And what does he make of his former employers chances of toppling the Master of Closutton, Willie Mullins, this time around?
“I actually don’t think he will but that doesn’t mean I won’t be cheering him on every day and twice on Sunday!”
“Look it’s only a matter of time before Gordon is Champion trainer, but Gordon knows at present to get the better of Willie is a massive ask. I have no doubt Gordon is going to be a multiple, multiple times Champion in Ireland, but Willie has started fast and he normally doesn’t get started until we head into autumn and early winter so this time around it could be tough.”
When asked if there were any horses he was disappointed to be saying goodbye to from Elliott’s burgeoning base, he spoke glowingly about a pair of novices who we shall see strutting their stuff in the Gigginstown maroon throughout the winter.
“I think he’s got the strongest group of novice hurdlers this year that he’s ever trained. Christ there’s some talent there. Samcro and Monbeg Worldwide would be two who I’m in particular looking forward to seeing.”
“Samcro is as good a bumper horse as I’ve seen and should make into a top hurdler. He’s not flashy but I’d be surprised if he wasn’t very, very good.”
He also turns to a Cullentra House favourite when asked, if the scriptwriters could place one horse in his care, who he would choose;
“Apples Jade, she’s a dinga! Tough, genuine. She could win a world hurdle couldn’t she?!”
And a chaser he would love to train?
“Might Bight. I know he’s quirky but he’s got the world at his feet and to me is the top chaser around at present.”
As winter lurks upon the horizon, Olly Murphy is set to join the likes of Dan Skelton and Harry Fry as one of the leading lights from the breath of youthful fresh air injected into the jump training fraternity. With an army of equine talent soon to roll into Warren Chase HQ, and the Wexford sand soon to be flying from the gallops, the rise to the top of the training tree for Olly Murphy is as big a racing certainty as you will find.