Racing: Test driver divided between two speed machines

Sue Montgomery on the rider with the inside line on Cape Verdi and City Honours
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The Independent Online
IF Cape Verdi wins the Derby, Frankie Dettori will be the man who gets the plaudits on the day, and very likely rightly so. But behind the star names in the saddle are a legion of riders whose importance to the sport is often understated but cannot be overemphasised.

The contribution made by the men and women who ride exercise and work on the home gallops is crucial. A good pair of hands sends messages of mental and physical balance down the reins and the horse-power contained in them runs sweetly; a bad pair, and you have a Ferrari with the choke out and no brakes or suspension.

The motor racing analogies are valid enough. Michael Schumacher and Dettori both do their share of behind-the-scenes testing, but both rely on the work put in earlier by a dedicated, hand-picked backroom team, whether wearing the livery of Maranello or, in today's case, Godolphin.

For the past 10 months Shaun Murphy has been responsible for the day- to-day well-being and education of not only Cape Verdi, but also the boy in blue, City Honours. And according to the man who knows them best, both are worthy of respect this afternoon.

That the filly was already a delight to ride when he took her over was testament to the skills of Derek Crutchley, his oppo at her first competitive home, Peter Chapple-Hyam's Manton, and like him an ex-jockey. "The first time I sat on Cape Verdi I knew immediately she had class," Murphy said, "but it was a couple of months into her work in Dubai before we knew just how much.

"When we took her off the sand and on to the grass track at Nad El Sheba she just ran away from everything and we knew we had something a bit special. She's got speed, she can quicken, and can keep galloping. I am sure she'll stay. It all comes so easy for her.

"The Derby can be a rough race, and although Cape Verdi is not small, she's lighter than some of those big colts, and wouldn't want to be bumped around. But she's got the pace to lay up near the front and stay out of trouble.

"You have to work much harder on City Honours, keep at him all the time. She'd be the classier ride, but he's a real tough individual, and should be able to hold his own in any buffeting. He'll be coming from off the pace, doing all his best work at the end."

After he relinquished his licence to ride in public, Murphy, 32, from Kinsale, Co Cork, had a spell with John Gosden in Newmarket but was head- hunted three years ago by Godolphin from the States, where he was riding work on the tracks and breaking yearlings at the big Kentucky stud farms.

In a life with racehorses that began at the age of 16 he has been there, done most - as an apprentice at Con Collins's he looked after the Irish Oaks winner Princess Pati, and with the Mullins family rode Dawn Run a few times and spent two days unconscious after a fall from a lesser beast ("The horse went into a wall but all I remember is passing the dung-heap and wondering whether to dive into it") - but has found his niche with Sheikh Mohammed's elite.

"All right, it's Frankie gets the glory," Murphy said. "But this job gives real satisfaction. You're riding really good horses and it's up to you how they turn out. And your work is appreciated, from the top. The Sheikh is a horseman himself, and he knows the score."