From the moment Oisin Murphy kicked off his UK career in 2013, it has been an upward trajectory for the three-times champion – at least in the saddle.
A prodigious horseman, the Cork-born rider made an almost immediate impact after joining the famed apprentice jockeys’ academy at Andrew Balding’s yard, grabbing the headlines by riding a four-timer on Ayr Gold Cup day in 2013, including the big race with Highland Colori.
After making such a splash, it was hardly surprising people quickly latched on to just how good the the 19-year-old was, with Murphy crowned champion apprentice in 2014 on what was certainly a fast-track to the big time.
Sheikh Fahad Al Thani and his Qatar Racing operation soon recognised his potential and snapped Murphy up as his retained rider in 2016 – a partnership that quickly bore fruit with victories for the likes of Pallasator, Lightning Spear and Simple Verse and would go on to yield Murphy’s first British Classic win aboard Kameko in the 2000 Guineas. Not to mention an epic 2018 with multiple Group One hero Roaring Lion.
Murphy claimed his first jockeys’ championship in 2019 – a memorable year on more than one front as he joined an elite band at the end of the campaign after riding Suave Richard to success in the Japan Cup, cementing his superstar status in the Far East where racing at the highest level is massively lucrative.
However, the title-winning campaign also marked the first time Murphy fell foul of the racecourse breathalyser test, being stood down at Salisbury on the eve of Royal Ascot – a transgression that resulted in a caution from the British Horseracing Authority as a first-time offence.
That appeared to be a minor blip and Murphy soon put it behind him, with Kameko spearheading a fine spring too, and the rider having another championship in the bag when the bombshell news broke that he had failed a drugs test in France earlier in the year.
Murphy, who maintained his innocence throughout, tested positive for cocaine when riding at Chantilly in July that year – a development that rather put a dampener on his second coronation at Ascot.
He faced a France Galop inquiry that November, with the French authority accepting Murphy’s defence that it was a case of environmental contamination from a sexual encounter, with scientific hair test evidence to back him up.
Murphy escaped with a lighter sentence of three months that saw him ruled out until March 2021, later revealing that he had contemplated quitting the saddle during that suspension.
He opted to continue in the weighing room and the likes of dual Group One winner Alcohol Free gave him plenty to smile about as he kept racking up the winners through the summer, supplementing his racing successes with some notable spins in the showjumping field, finishing second in an amateur class at Hickstead as he returned to a sport he competed in throughout his youth.
By the autumn it became clear Murphy was in a real battle for a third championship with William Buick, who had enjoyed a truly stellar season.
A nasty paddock incident as Salisbury at the end of September left Murphy needing stitches, although he barely missed a beat, but worse was to come the following week when he failed a breath test at Newmarket on the first day of the Cesarewitch meeting.
With Buick hot on his heels, an enforced day on the sidlelines added an extra layer of pressure the following week as the title campaign closed, but with 24 hours to go, it was clear Murphy would claim the crown for a third time at Ascot.
His coronation was somewhat overshadowed by reports in a national newspaper that he had been involved a pub fracas the previous week in Newmarket, with the incident apparently taking place the evening before he failed a pre-race breath test.
Murphy barely commented on the accusation, but Sheikh Fahad, who shares a strong bond with the rider, described him as “like a brother” as he launched a full-throated defence on Champions Day.
His support was clearly unwavering and so it remained when it emerged in December that Murphy was temporarily relinquishing his licence to tackle his “health issues” in the face of BHA charges relating to his Newmarket failure, plus an additional Chester test earlier in the season, and possible contravention of Covid restrictions.
In a statement at the time, he said: “It became obvious to me and to everyone else that I needed to seek serious help.
“Whether I deserve it or not, many kind people have stood by me and I really appreciate their support. I’m deeply embarrassed and regret my actions.”
His reputation has taken an obvious knock, but in seeking help there is a path back to the glory days. Others have been in his position – and returned stronger.
Aside from his obvious personal welfare, which takes priority, racing can ill afford to have such a talent in turmoil.