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Murphy admits alcohol was the ‘rock I perished on’

Oisin Murphy admitted his issues with alcohol had led him to make “grave” errors that resulted in the 14-month total suspension handed out by the British Horseracing Authority on Tuesday.

The three-times champion jockey addressed the independent judicial panel at length during the hearing, recalling his uncle, Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National-winning jockey Jim Culloty, warning him alcohol could be a “slippery slope”, while Ballydoyle maestro Aidan O’Brien had always cautioned about the dangers of excessive drinking.

Murphy spoke of how he avoided any difficulties until 2018, when he went to Hong Kong and “experienced the nightlife there”.

He said: “The first time I realised I might have a little problem was when I turned up to ride Beat The Bank work out there and Andrew (Balding, trainer) said my breath smelt of alcohol.

“I was second in the championship in 2018 to Silvestre de Sousa and I really wanted to win it, but at the same time my social life was growing.”

Oisin Murphy with his championship trophy
Oisin Murphy with his championship trophy (Simon Cooper/PA)

Murphy failed his first breath test at Salisbury in June 2019 and said that incident had “scared” him and recounted the occasion that led to him serving a three-month suspension after testing positive for cocaine in France in 2020 – when he successfully argued that it was a case of environmental contamination from a sexual encounter, with scientific hair test evidence to back him up.

He continued: “Later that year I went to Ayr chasing the championship and picked up a seven-day ban for careless riding. My girlfriend at the time suggested a holiday and I knew some people who were going to Mykonos.

“I remember some days before we travelled there was talk some countries were going on the red list, but I knew stepping foot on the plane that I was going to be telling some people I wasn’t going there and that I would be committing a lie.

“I had media commitments I had to carry out and if I was doing them from somewhere sunny, I would have to have a story.

“I lied to anyone who asked me where I’d been. I did have a phone call from the BHA and I felt I had to keep up the lie, I felt it could be contained and I wasn’t feeling any symptoms.

“The France Galop thing was in the back of my mind, the pressure was starting to take its toll. In the past I felt like I wasn’t to blame for things that had happened, this time I was.

“I got the three-month ban and I tried to put racing out of my mind. My mother came over but I was drinking most days. It was early in 2021 my mum warned me about my drinking, but I knew the BHA were on to me about Mykonos.

“I knew they were about to get me, it was a matter of time, but I still chose to lie.”

Oisin Murphy after winning aboard Quickthorn at Royal Ascot
Oisin Murphy after winning aboard Quickthorn at Royal Ascot (David Davies/PA)

Murphy explained how he used alcohol to get to sleep, resulting in the Chester failure which he found out about prior to Royal Ascot.

He said: “I got through Ascot, I was leading rider and felt I could take whatever was being thrown at me, but David Redvers (racing manager for retained owner Qatar Racing) and Anna-Lisa Balding (trainer’s wife) were in my ear asking how I was coping.

“At Glorious Goodwood I knew they’d be testing every day but I was still drinking on the way home in the car. It was then it dawned on me I had a dependence on alcohol. Since 2018 I’d been using it to get me to sleep. I couldn’t remember going to bed any night that week.”

Murphy was involved in a prolonged battle with William Buick for the 2021 title, with the championship only decided the day before the seasonal finale on Champions Day at Ascot – a battle he felt had taken its toll, resulting in an incident in a Newmarket bar on October 7, the evening before he again failed a breath test on the first day of the Cesarewitch meeting.

He said: “The next morning my friends started telling me stories about what I’d done and the panic set in. I realised my drinking was out of control. I never drank in the morning but in the evening I could drink one glass of wine or 10.

“I took until October 8 for me to finally give in and realise that my issues of coping with pressure had led to me developing a dependence on alcohol. I should have realised earlier, David Redvers tried to help me but I convinced myself I could control it.

“I couldn’t undo the lies and deceit. Now that I’m sober I’m a different person and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made those errors sober, but I can’t go back in time and I’m afraid they were grave issues.

“I dealt with success and failure the same. Drink was the rock I perished on. People had told me this could happen but I failed to avoid it and fell into the trap.

“The day I picked up the championship trophy there was no element of joy in it for me. I admit all the breaches and just wish I could have dealt with them better.”

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