Champion jockey Oisin Murphy primed for Newcastle return

Horse Racing

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy is relishing the prospect of getting back to the business of riding winners when racing makes its eagerly-awaited return on Monday.

Crowned leading apprentice in 2014, Murphy, 24, – who is the nephew of Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning rider Jim Culloty – last year became the youngest jockey to take the senior title since Ryan Moore at the age of 23 in 2006.

Like everyone else, Murphy – who has three rides on the opening day at Newcastle – has had to find ways to keep occupied since the coronavirus lockdown brought racing to a halt in Britain in mid-March, but with resumption just hours away, he is raring to go.

He said: “I’ve been about two months completely unemployed. I’ve been passing the time by walking and trying to keep on top of my fitness. I’ve been doing loads of cooking – I don’t think I’ve improved too much! Salmon and mashed potatoes are a staple diet at the moment.

Kameko is a leading 2000 Guineas contender for Oisin Murphy on Saturday
Kameko is a leading 2000 Guineas contender for Oisin Murphy on Saturday (Richard Sellers/PA)

“Netflix wore off after a few weeks. I suppose the first six weeks of lockdown I could hardly ride out, but the last fortnight or so I’ve been able to go into different stables and have a feel of some horses. That gives me a focus to my day, otherwise it’s very difficult to just roll out of bed and have nothing to do or work towards.

“I’ve tried cycling – Tom Marquand and a few of those boys go off for miles and miles, but I can’t keep up with them so I threw in the towel pretty quickly.”

Numerous strict protocols will be in place on racecourses, where the action will be behind closed doors, but Murphy fully expects riders and other personnel to cope well.

He said: “We’ve all been in regular contact with each other and our valets. We’re going to be split into different groups and all have our own area in the weighing room. There won’t actually be any need for us to get within two metres of each other. We are fully versed on the protocols and I feel comfortable that we can adhere to them correctly and we can go back racing and be good role models for other sports.

“I haven’t ridden behind closed doors, but it’s worked perfectly fine in Australia, Hong Kong and Japan over the last couple of months. It’s nice to have an atmosphere – I Frankie (Dettori) will miss the crowds! But at the end of the day we’re looking forward to riding really good horses and buzzing off the thought of that.”

He added: “I’d like to be champion jockey again, of course I would, but the most important thing is I keep the people happy that I am riding for. I rode for 67 trainers last year and if I could ride for all those again and they were all happy to use me, that would be nice.”

Racing's greatest showman is back in the saddle on Tuesday
Racing’s greatest showman is back in the saddle on Tuesday (Clint Hughes/PA)

Like Murphy, who will ride Kameko in the Qipco 2000 Guineas on Saturday, Dettori has a big week in store, although he starts off low-key with just one ride on Tuesday. He revealed he has already been working out on the gallops wearing a face mask in preparation.

The Italian – who could renew his association with Stradivarius at Newmarket on Friday – said in blog for Sporting Index: “Having no racing has been a bit like being retired… and I don’t like it! I’ll be 50 later this year, but I’ll be giving myself a couple more seasons at least. My body can still do it and I’m still in demand, so long may it continue.

“I’ve been working in the gym and on the gallops with a mask on. It’s not ideal, but it’s what they’ve been doing in other countries and we just have to get on with it – hopefully it won’t be for too long.

“I love the crowds and it’s going to be a lot different performing in front of empty stands. Hopefully come July they can start to begin letting people attend meetings, but at least we are going to be back competing and that’s the main thing for now.

“The Guineas, Royal Ascot and the Classics at Epsom all come within four weeks of each other, so it’s going to be a busy time with plenty to focus on.”

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