Murphy in tale of rediscovery

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The Independent Online
reports from Chepstow

Declan Murphy added a chapter to a story that will soon be retold at children's bedsides here yesterday. The Irish jockey, who was close to death after a fall at Haydock 17 months ago, showed his rehabilitation is complete by winning on his comeback ride. The kids will not believe it.

Hospitals have provided Murphy with the defining moments of his life. He was brought into the world in the Co Limerick village of that name in 1967 and almost left it in Liverpool's Walton Hospital last May. His injuries following a fall from Arcot - multiple fractures to his skull and a blood-clot on his brain - were so severe that at one stage he was considered to be just four minutes from death. He remembers nothing of the accident and the friends and family who saw him in hospital have urged him never to view the pictures that captured his condition.

There was no sign of all this on the face of the 28-year-old jockey. Murphy's memory may be impaired in several areas, but the calmness that has characterised much of his riding is still with him. After studying the card for the Flat versus Jump Jockeys Challenge in which he was a participant, he fell asleep in the Mercedes that was transporting him the 200 miles from his Newmarket home to the Welsh track.

When he emerged for combat fitted with the new helmet he has helped to develop, Murphy appeared serene. It was not a false image. "He showed no nerves and I didn't give him any instructions," Geoff Lewis, who legged the jockey into Jibereen's saddle, said: "You don't give good jockeys instructions."

If others were fearful for Murphy's health, they did not let it influence their betting, and Jibereen started as 7-2 favourite.

Fear of defeat was all but extinguished in a matter of strides. Murphy checked over his right shoulder before manoeuvring into first place on the rails. It was a position he was never to relinquish. It may not have been the most competitive of races and there may have been few jockeys eager to spoil the story, but that should not diminish from the achievement.

The Irishman has never let the thought that his powers may have been snuffed out enter his mind, but even he was surprised by the manner in which he immediately coped with the rigours of race riding.

"I found the horse's cruising speed within 10 strides," he reported. "By the time I got to the half-mile pole I felt complete as a jockey. I did it instinctively and I didn't have to work at it.

"I have achieved some victories in my life but nothing as great as this. What has felt like a dream for so long has just become a reality."

Before competition, Murphy had threatened that this could be both his first ride back and the last of his career. He has been offered a job which would take him out of the country for three or four months a year but one over which he was sworn to secrecy (the profile of a post with MI6).

Such was the exhilaration he felt here that considerations of an alternative career were soon abandoned. "I could not get off horses after that," he said. "No matter what was offered me on this planet I would not give up. The reality is that I may be able to do this for another seven or eight years."

There were passages where Murphy was lost for words yesterday, which added to the singularity of the afternoon. He refused to ponder the future too closely although he is expected to make his return to fences at Kempton on Saturday. "I don't see that as a problem because today was more difficult than any jump race I have ever ridden in," he said. "I don't want to look too far because I don't want to get off the cloud I am on right now. This has been the greatest day of my life."

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