Oisin Murphy: Becoming champion jockey is a 'childhood dream'

Oisin Murphy
Oisin Murphy has ridden 168 winners in 167 days heading into the weekend
British Champions Day
Venue: Ascot Date: Saturday, 19 October Start: 13:45 BST
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live.

Oisin Murphy says becoming champion jockey is a "childhood dream" - one that was a long shot when he was born weighing little more than a bag of sugar.

Murphy was just 2lb 14oz (1.3kg) when he was born prematurely 24 years ago in the Republic of Ireland.

He spent time in a neonatal intensive care unit, overcame problems with bone development and developed a love for horses which has seen him rise to the pinnacle of his sport.

"I'm realising a childhood dream. I've worked towards this for a very long time so I'm so pleased it's come off," he told BBC Sport.

"You can dream about winning those big races but no-one ever told me it was possible. My parents used to tell me that very few jockeys make it. I've just kept grafting and fighting."

Now weighing in at eight stone (50.8kg) and 5ft 5in (1.65m) tall, he will be handed the trophy for top jockey during Qipco British Champions Day at Ascot on Saturday by another champion - world heptathlon gold medallist Katarina Johnson-Thompson.

Oisin Murphy
Murphy spent time in a neonatal intensive care ward after his birth

From a pet pony to racing's biggest prizes

While his arrival was earlier than expected, Murphy is now in the habit of timing his run to perfection as he racks up winners.

"Adversity was never going to hold him back, regardless. I think he was born with that determination, and that steely determination is with him right now," says his mother Mary.

As the nephew of jockey Jim Culloty, who won the Cheltenham Gold Cup three times from 2002 to 2004 on Best Mate, he had expert equine guidance from an early age and became an accomplished showjumper.

"I don't remember going to riding school but I was sent there every Saturday from my fourth birthday," says Murphy, who hails from Killarney in County Kerry.

"I got a pony aged seven and rode it around the fields at home and was always getting bucked off. He was called Rusty but I couldn't pronounce my Rs so would say Wusty.

Oisin Murphy
Murphy, pictured with his pony Rusty, grew up around horses and loved riding from a young age

"I remember my hands being sore - I was a tiny child but loved every minute of it."

Murphy targeted a career in racing and travelled abroad on his own for the first time when he took up an offer to ride aged 17 from English trainer Andrew Balding.

His big breakthrough came a year later when clocking up four victories in one afternoon at combined odds of 9,260-1, with Highland Colori's Ayr Gold Cup the highlight of his winning run in Scotland.

Murphy was appointed number one jockey to the powerful Qatar Racing owners in 2016 and has since enjoyed big-race successes with the likes of Lightning Spear, Simple Verse and Roaring Lion.

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Oisin Murphy:

Age: 24: Rides in 2019 title race: 854 Wins: 168 Strike rate: 20% (4 May to 18 October)

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Bouncing back to win title

Murphy saw off the challenge of Danny Tudhope to claim the British Flat jockeys' championship - decided by winners in a five-month period during the peak season - for the first time.

After setting out to take the title this year, his charge stuttered when he narrowly failed a racecourse breath test. He felt "ashamed" and his confidence dipped before fighting back.

"You must remember I was 12 in front and went nine behind. People began to write me off in the press," he says.

"That was the real character test - to believe I could do it. I don't now feel particularly uplifted, it's a relief."

He is keen to promote the positive side of racing, using social media and engaging with young followers.

"I was that young boy who used to ask jockeys for their autographs or racing goggles, so it resonates with me," says Murphy.

"We are world leaders and others look at us and all these good horses that originate from Britain and Ireland."

Murphy also rides a leading horse from Japan - the Glorious Goodwood winner Deirdre - who will go for a further big success in the Champion Stakes at Ascot.

Another chance on Saturday lies with Benbatl in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes as he looks to round off a successful season, but already there are other targets ahead.

"There are multiple champions in the weighing room like Ryan Moore, Frankie Dettori and Jamie Spencer. I'd love to be champion jockey again," he says.

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