Saturday 25 January 2020

'If it gets a run on you it's a vicious circle' - Murphy on weight battle

Timmy Murphy (centre) celebrates his 2008 Grand National victory on Comply Or Die with Johnny Farrelly (left) and Aidan Coleman
Timmy Murphy (centre) celebrates his 2008 Grand National victory on Comply Or Die with Johnny Farrelly (left) and Aidan Coleman
Michael Verney

Michael Verney

"MY heart is pounding. Me, Timmy Murphy from Kilcullen in Kildare, Grand National-winning jockey. It almost doesn't seem right."

That's what it meant to win the Aintree showpiece, as described by Murphy in his searingly honest autobiography 'Riding The Storm' but on the tenth anniversary of his victory aboard Comply Or Die, he's quick to acknowledge how it could easily never have happened.

To say the 43-year-old - widely acknowledged as one of the most stylish horsemen in the saddle - has had a colourful racing career is a gross understatement.

Six years prior to National success, he spent three months in prison after an incident on an aeroplane when flying from Tokyo (where he had ridden Paul Nicholls' Cenkos in the Nakayama Grand Jump) to Heathrow.

He was unsure about where his racing future stood but his good friend Michael Hourigan was a huge help as always and gave him all the support he needed in difficult times.


The veteran Limerick trainer provided him with "a safe haven free from television cameras and reporters" and was in his pomp with Beef Or Salmon the outstanding dish in his yard as the brilliant chaser forged his name in National Hunt history.

That made his decision to leave Hourigan's Patrickswell base even more difficult when an unexpected call came. As luck would have it he didn't even apply for the job as retained rider for David Johnson when AP McCoy switched to JP McManus.

"I didn't think I was the sort of rider that Martin Pipe wanted, I didn't think I suited their style," Murphy said earlier this week as powerful owner Johnson wondered why his name was not on the list of applicants and sought his services.

It hurt him to break his partnership with Beef Or Salmon - which he rode to victory seven times, including five Grade Ones, and would actually partner him in his final race just weeks after the 2008 National success - but someone close to him advised that "you can't stay in a job because of one horse".

Off to Pond House he went and extraordinary success lay in store with Celestial Gold, Well Chief, Our Vic and many more, but none bigger than Comply Or Die with Murphy admitting "it's hard to top that one".

"The years go by very quickly but that was just a great weekend. Al Eile won the Aintree Hurdle, Our Vic beat Kauto Star in the Betfair Bowl so confidence was pretty high going into the big race and it went pretty smoothly," he recalls.

"The only fence he missed was the first ditch, he never put a foot wrong after that and he even gave me a further three spins in the National after winning. I've watched it a good few times after and it was posted on Facebook recently and I looked at it again, you don't get tired of it."

Murphy was part of a golden generation of riders with the likes of Ruby Walsh, Richard Dunwoody and McCoy all heralded as lead protagonists but the man who was back in second place aboard King Johns Caste is described as the best he's ridden against, a certain Paul Carberry. Given their striking similarities in the saddle, that's hardly a surprise as both oozed style.

Both displayed great balance and it's no wonder they enjoyed National glory as Murphy describes rhythm as the key to its unique demands along with "a fair bit of luck to keep out of trouble".

With predicted soft to heavy going, today's renewal could be the most demanding since Red Marauder's success on bottomless ground 17 years ago when Murphy was second on Smarty as just two completed.

He says: "I remember when we jumped 'The Chair' going out for the last circuit there was just an eerie silence, there's usually plenty going on but you're just thinking, 'where the hell has everyone gone like?'.

"I thought we were going to win it at one stage. I couldn't believe Red Marauder stayed standing, all I could hear was fences being clattered behind me. I kept having a look and saying 'he can't still be there' only for Richard Guest to arrive on again."

Having ridden more than 1,000 National Hunt winners, Murphy is in elite company but a dislocated shoulder in 2013 eventually forced him out of the jumping game.

Doctors couldn't pass him medically fit to ride over obstacles so "it was either retire from the saddle altogether or ride on the Flat" and that was an easy option with his first winner on the level courtesy of the aptly-named Houdini in May 2015.

He rides out for Richard Hannon most days and life is all changed living on 44 acres of grassland, renamed Cilldara (Irish for Kildare), in the Cotswolds.

There's a daily battle with the weighing scales, however, and "a bit of time out" was needed this spring after his weight got the better of him over the winter.

"I was trying to lose 10 or 11lbs in a day to make weight and travelling and sweating. I had no life, especially the last year I was doing it, I just had no life. It was riding out in a sweat suit.

"If you don't have time to sweat in the bath you're in a sweat suit in the car and then you're sweating when you get to the races. Then you're riding," he outlines painfully.

"If it gets a run on you it's a vicious circle. The more you lose the more you put on, it's not just the physical, it's the mental part of it, you're just not in a good place. You're angry all the time and you're just not happy.

"At the stage of my career that I'm at I'd rather be a little bit happy."

Murphy is a stark reminder that another tale usually lies behind every jockey's success and failures.

Irish Independent

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