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Conor Murphy, the Corkman who won a million on a Cheltenham gamble

He put 50 quid on three horses and it paid out big time.

Stable lad Conor Murphy who won over £1million in an accumulator bet in 2012.
Stable lad Conor Murphy who won over £1million in an accumulator bet in 2012.
Image: PA Archive/Press Association Images

CONOR MURPHY WAS the story of the 2012 Cheltenham Racing Festival when his £50 bet on five horses three months before the first race earned him over £1.2 million.

It was a dream come true for the 32 year-old Corkman but in his own words, all it allowed him to do was dream bigger.

From the small village of Ballineen 20 minutes west of Bandon, Murphy now calls Anchorage, Kentucky his home and though he yearns to have a stable of his own back in Ireland, the big money on offer is keeping him in America for the time being.

Like many in his chosen profession he lives by the golden rule, that being, he who has the gold makes the rule – and if £1.2m sounds like a lot, some of his competitors have it in the change tray.

Indeed, in much the same way money buys trophies in the best football and rugby leagues on the continent, so too does the dollar in this game.

In that sense, it’s a phenomenally uneven playing field and if Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum of the Emirates and his kind are the Manchester City of horse racing – buying horses purely because they can, Murphy admits he’s the Riverside Athletic, the soccer team he played for until he was 18.

His nickname was ‘Heskey’ growing up, a moniker earned because of his profligacy in front of goal, though the fields he played on were about as smooth as Cheltenham on Gold Cup day

Liverpool are still very close to his heart and he never misses a game – though the hairs on his head are becoming fewer, and greyer, because his two passions.

“The hair is getting greyer and I dunno is it because of the horses or Liverpool, but they’re playing some good stuff at the moment,” he says in a west Cork accent.

“When Fergie last won the league with United he probably couldn’t believe he was winning by 11 points with the team he had so he probably thought it was time to get out…but the quality hasn’t half-plummeted. It’s terrible, terrible.”

He’s already mucked out a few stables by the time the call arrives and the 16-hour journey to Florida from Anchorage where he’ll base his horses for the winter (because it’s warmer) hasn’t knocked a shade out of him.

Sadly for him, it’s horses we’re supposed to talk about and more specifically, the quarter of a million he’s made this year. A laugh borne out of sheer humility follows the question.

“Look, we’d a good year. I think we had 11 winners,” he says “and I was missing my three best horses.

“No matter what walk of life you’re in, 250 grand is a lot of money but over here, it just means you’ve more opportunity and a wider variety of tracks to run where the money is much better.

“I’ve said it time and again, I’d love to be at home training but the money just isn’t good enough. So if you’re running for top money it doesn’t make sense to run for smaller money against tougher opposition.

“At the start of the year I always set out a realistic target and that was to get 10 winners so we achieved that. Not only that, we had something like a dozen runners-up and a lot of thirds but you’re not going to win them all.

“If you can be competitive, finishing second is a tough spot to finish but it’s better than being down the field.”

Another Dimension

That money, as he says, has been invested back into his stable, which is called Riverside Bloodstock. It’s a hat-tip to his old team but more poignantly, the horse that netted him that staggering pot almost five years ago, Riverside Theatre.

An example of the high stakes game he’s playing is he bought a horse named Dimension.

It was to be his flagship horse, the mount which he hoped would get his name out there and net him some mega pay-days.

Dimension stayed true to Conor’s word and bagged cheques of $20,000 and $30,000 in two particularly prestigious races and had a shot at the $1,000,000 prize in the Breeder’s Cup Turf Sprint in his first year.

Alas, a second fairytale didn’t unfold and instead, Dimension spent much of this year injured.

“There’s no doubt, when you’ve a horse like Dimension running at the top level you have to make hay while the sun shines; he’s lightly raced but he’s going to be eight in the New year and it doesn’t get easier.

“At the same time he’s had a good long break. This year didn’t go to plan and that’s just the way it goes in this business.

“Hopefully, he can get somewhere back to his best but if he doesn’t we’ll retire him and he’ll be happy but I do feel there’s plenty life left in him yet.”

And the very same can be said for Murphy himself, who married long-time partner Julia last year.

“I definitely still have the passion but what I do now is harder,” he said in contrasting his life working for UK owner Nicky Henderson.

“It’s great when you’re working for Nicky and you just have to show up and do your job, he’s got all the horses and you’re working with top-class animals but when you’ve to go out and do it yourself and bring in the owners and the horses it’s a lot more difficult.

“You’ve much more on your plate as regards stress, for one, but looking after the barn and talking to owners is a lot harder work. Having said that, I definitely would not swap it for anything.”

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There are huge sacrifices to be made in what he does. He rarely gets home to Ireland, he can’t remember the last time he took a holiday while family events rarely see him in attendance.

“A lot of sacrifices have been made but that’s part of the game, simple as that. I’m lucky to have an understanding wife who shares my passion because it’d be hard otherwise.

“We don’t get away as much as Julie would like but again, you have to be here, when you’re away you’d be worrying about things and you just need to be here.

“We were going out a long time before we got married so she knows how to put up with me and the one thing about her is she’s there for the good days and there for the bad days too, which is more important.”

Though still a relative unknown, so he says anyway, Murphy is muscling in on the big boys. In his first year he had three horses, then seven, now 14 and next year he wants more again.

“As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day but it’s building up slowly.

“I’m still relatively unknown and I’d have a lesser profile than some of the others but we’ve built up a few more owners and have a lot of good owners and good relationships and if we can keep building on that it’d be great. I want to have 20 next year but we’ll have to see.”

Murphy is helped by another Irishman named Justin Curran. The latter sees after the breaking-in of the horses while Murphy does more of the training, prescribing training programmes, so to speak.

Though the dream is to get a horse to win either the Preakness, the Belmont Stakes or the Kentucky Derby – the trio that make up the Triple Crown, he knows it’s baby steps before that can ever be countenanced.

“It’s the main thing over here but it wouldn’t occupy my thoughts, to be honest. Horses are put under pressure early, the majority of breeders, owners and trainers think about the Preakness, Belmont and Kentucky and nothing else.

“But if look after a horse and bring it along slowly there are other races to be won for good money. If had a horse good enough to run at any of those it’d be the opportunity of a lifetime but it doesn’t occupy my mind.

“If you can get the horse, first of all to run, you can worry about winning races then.”

And will he be betting on them when that day arrives?

“I’d have a few bets here and there but I don’t bet much now at all. Because I’m living over here it’s harder so I don’t do much at home. I’d never get as lucky again!”

About the author:

Brian Canty

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