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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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Oisin Murphy's Champion Jockey win a testament to his talent and work ethic

The 24-year-old Kerry native joined a long list of racing’s greats at Ascot on Saturday, writes Donn McClean.

Murphy lifting his trophy over the weekend.
Murphy lifting his trophy over the weekend.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

WE HAD KNOWN for a while that Oisin Murphy was going to be crowned champion flat jockey in Britain this year, but it doesn’t reduce the magnitude of the achievement.

To go from Ireland and win the British championship just six years after you have ridden your first winner: it is some feat, and it is testament to the rider’s talent and to his work ethic.

On Saturday at Ascot, on the last day of the 2019 British flat jockeys’ championship – if not the 2019 British flat racing season – the young Kerryman said that he was both relieved and delighted. That it had been a lifelong ambition.

That’s just 24 years long then.

Pat Eddery was the first Irishman to be crowned champion jockey in Britain. That was in 1974, and Eddery was so good, he won 10 more titles. Kieren Fallon won the British championship six times, Richard Hughes won it three times and Jamie Spencer won it twice. Before this year, four Irishmen had been crowned champion jockey on the flat in Britain. Now add Oisin Murphy. He is in good company.

Jockeys’ championships are important. To win the championship is huge. To ride more winners than any other rider in a season. AP McCoy was never not champion over jumps after he started riding in Britain. Conditional jockeys’ champion during his inaugural season, he was champion National Hunt jockey the following season, and for the next 19.

Reigning champion for 20 years in a row (talk about talent and work ethic), and it was his primary objective at the start of every season. And it is not insignificant that Richard Johnson, formerly perennial runner-up, has been champion every year since McCoy retired.

The recent roll of honour of champion National Hunt riders in Ireland reads like a Who’s Who. Charlie Swan dominated the 1990s, winning the championship nine times. Ruby Walsh won it 12 times, more times than any other rider. Add Barry Geraghty and Paul Carberry and Davy Russell and Paul Townend.

It’s the same on the flat in Ireland. Michael Kinane and Christy Roche and Johnny Murtagh and Pat Smullen and Jamie Spencer and Declan McDonogh and Joseph O’Brien. Colin Keane won his first championship in 2017 and Donnacha O’Brien won his first in 2018, and those two are neck and neck this year, each man going for his second title.

donnacha-obrien-onboard-brook-on-fifth-left-holds-of-the-challenge-of-colin-keane-onboard-edward-hopper-to-win Donnacha O'Brien (left, on board Brook on Fifth) and Colin Keane (on board Edward Hopper) at the Curragh. Source: Peter Mooney/INPHO

Their duel is a thread that is running through the latter stages of the season. At the start of this month, Keane led by two, 91 to 89. At Dundalk on 4 October, Keane had two winners while O’Brien had one, and it was a similar story at Navan on 9 October, Keane with two winners and O’Brien with one. That left Keane four clear, 95 to 91.

Then Donnacha O’Brien cut loose: two winners at Thurles, one at Dundalk, two at Limerick, two more at The Curragh and a treble at Gowran Park last Monday took him through the 100 barrier. Keane had just one winner in that period, Lemista for Ger Lyons at Gowran Park on Monday, which left O’Brien five clear, 101 to 96, and a warm favourite to win the championship.

It looked like O’Brien had the slightly stronger book of rides at Dundalk last Friday evening, but he drew a blank, while Keane kicked home two winners for his boss Ger Lyons. That narrowed the gap to three. Keane had another winner at Leopardstown on Saturday, while O’Brien was busy at Ascot for British Champions’ Day.

Donnacha O’Brien rode two winners at Ascot on Saturday. (Small digression here.) He got the better of Frankie Dettori on Stradivarius in a thrilling finish to the Qipco Long Distance Cup, and he landed the Qipco Champion Stakes on Magical. Of course, neither win counts in the Irish jockeys’ championship, but it was some day for the young rider, his first winners on British Champions Day.

(Digression over.)

Last year’s champion was back at Naas on Sunday, where he rode the first two winners, and they do count in the championship: 103-99.

It’s a similar story in the apprentices’ championship, nip and tuck between Oisin Orr and Andrew Slattery.

Slattery led by one at the start of October, 37-36. Orr drew level at Dundalk on 4 October, but Slattery went one clear again at Navan on 9th October. He went two clear at Dundalk on 11 October and he went three clear at The Curragh on 13 October, before Orr rode a double at Dundalk last Friday night, both winners for Eddie Lynam, to claw the deficit back to one, 40-39.

At Leopardstown on Saturday, Oisin Orr drew level when he won the opening fillies’ maiden on Amma Grace for Dermot Weld, but Slattery went one ahead again when he came clear in the concluding maiden on the 16/1 shot Lady Stormborn for his dad Andy.

The races to the championships continue at The Curragh today, then it’s on to Navan on Wednesday and Dundalk on Friday and Leopardstown on Saturday. Just a couple of weeks to go now, and these races could go all the way.

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About the author:

Donn McClean

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