Murphy lets the curtain fall

A leading jockey hands in his saddle to start a new career. Greg Wood reports
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Intelligence has always been one of Declan Murphy's defining characteristics, and it was displayed again yesterday when the jockey, having decided that he had "nothing left to prove", announced his retirement from the saddle to join the nascent satellite Racing Channel. Jibereen, Murphy's winning ride at Chepstow last month on his return from a near-fatal injury, will now also enter the record books as the last of his career.

Murphy said yesterday that his victory on Jibereen, 18 months after a fall at Haydock left him with severe head injuries and clinging to life on a ventilator, was "such a high that I thought it wouldn't matter what I did afterwards, it would be an anticlimax. I gave up race-riding for two weeks afterwards to see if I would miss it and I didn't miss it at all. I would never have allowed race-riding to be taken away from me by my accident, but having come back and found I was riding as well as ever, I have nothing left to prove to anyone.''

Declan Murphy was a confident jockey, both in and out of the saddle, from an early age, as he honed his riding skills on Ireland's competitive pony- racing circuit. His first winner under Rules was Prom at Tralee on 21 June 1983, but he first came to prominence in Britain in the late Eighties through his association with the trainer and gambler Barney Curley - a considerable testament to his ability since the razor-sharp Curley would not entrust his punting cash to anyone he did not rate very highly.

Curley, however, could not provide Murphy with the high-class partners he deserved, and the jockey took up a position as Josh Gifford's stable jockey. In 1993 the association brought him his most important success, on Deep Sensation in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, and also his most memorable, when he partnered Bradbury Star to victory in the Mackeson Gold Cup, though exhausted to the point of collapse following an earlier fall. That same year, he won the Bula Hurdle on Staunch Friend, with victory in the Tripleprint Chase on Fragrant Dawn also standing out in the memory.

Five, perhaps 10 more years of an already impressive career seemed to lie ahead of Declan Murphy as he approached the end of the 1993-94 season with 60 winners, his best-ever total, to his credit. But it was then that the danger which follows all jockeys snatched at him as he and Arcot jumped the last flight at Haydock in the Swinton Handicap Hurdle, and Murphy was left close to death.

Even after leaving hospital, it was several weeks before he could walk unaided and a return to the saddle seemed an impossible ambition. Once it had been achieved, Murphy was ready for a new direction.

"I'll be working on the Racing Channel's breakfast and morning programmes," he said yesterday, "and as I gain more experience I'll move to present the racing." George Irvine, the general manager of SIS, which produces the Racing Channel, said: "He is a fine recruit. He is very knowledgeable and very articulate.''

There was praise, too, from several trainers who provided Murphy with big winners. "It's a sport where you have to give 120 per cent and if you have any doubts you should give up," Josh Gifford said. "It is a regrettable decision but I'm pleased for him as he had a horrible fall and it was a miracle that he came back at all.''

The fine details of Murphy's comeback ride on Jibereen were controversially put under scrutiny by the Jockey Club, but the rider denied the official interest had in any way prompted his decision. "That had absolutely nothing to with it," he said. "It was right for racing that they looked into the matter."

The betting patterns before the Chepstow race were investigated by the Jockey Club, amid allegations of skullduggery concerning not only the tactics employed by the other jockeys but also the ballot for the jockeys' mounts beforehand. It transpired that Murphy had partnered Jibereen in work a couple of days prior to the race. Yesterday, however, a Jockey Club statement said that investigations had found no breach of any regulations and that no inquiry is to be held.