'The complete jockey,' Curley repeated yesterday of the man he brought with him to Britain in the early Eighties. After witnessing Murphy's fine skills producing Staunch Friend and Fragrant Dawn for success at Cheltenham on Saturday, a month after he showed such grit on Bradbury Star at the same venue, it is difficult to argue with Curley's
The patience and confidence he displayed in delaying Fragrant Dawn's challenge before hitting the front in the day's main event, the Tripleprint Gold Cup, would be hard to match. Usually a rather intense man, Murphy allowed the mask to slip a little as he revealed his intense pleasure at winning another big prize (and at his own audacity no doubt) with a private celebration as he pulled up the horse.
His confidence is a trait that has been with Murphy from the start. 'I was looking for a jockey to come to Britain and ride for me,' Curley recalled. 'Someone said there's a kid in the village (in Co Limerick) and he can ride. I told him to come up to the mansion I was raffling at the time. He was only 16 or 17, doing his exams at the time and most kids would be a bit frightened by going to a place like that. Not him. I remember asking him 'would he be good enough?'. 'Don't worry, I'll be good enough', he said.
'When we were just starting out he was riding a good horse we had called The Hacienderos at Kempton and I told him not to hit the front until he'd jumped the last. When he took a pull between the last two, the television commentator said 'I wonder does Mr Murphy know where the winning post is?'. He knew all right.'
Curley has recently been keeping a much lower profile. 'I wasted three years trying to put racing right, but they woudn't listen,' he said. 'I've had a sabbatical for 1993 (while building up his Windsor nightclub) and I've done very little punting, just a few bets on my own horses. But starting on 1 January I'll be back in action.'
His opinions remain trenchant. On racing's new ruling body, the British Horseracing Board: 'A complete and utter waste of time and money. What has racing gained from it?' On fellow trainers and the racing press: 'If there was an exam on racing, 95 per cent of them would fail.' More pertinently, on Declan Murphy: 'Declan and Lanfranco Dettori on the Flat. I'd put them in the same class. They're both very sharp, very intelligent, and not just with racing matters.'
Curley's high regard for Murphy is shared with Mark Tompkins, Staunch Friend's trainer. 'Declan, he's the man. He's made the horse,' the Newmarket trainer said yesterday. 'Let's hope he stays in one piece.'
While Tompkins intends to keep the Murphy/Staunch Friend team intact, the Irishman's win on Fragrant Dawn is unlikely to yield a surge of rides from Martin Pipe, although they have joined up for Buglet at Warwick today. Murphy gained the Fragrant Dawn ride thanks to quick thinking and persistence from his agent, Peter Harris, when he learned the jockey was not needed at Lingfield by his retaining trainer, Josh Gifford, that Pipe's stable jockey, Richard Dunwoody, had opted to ride Egypt Mill Prince, and that Dunwoody's deputy, Jonathon Lower, was stricken with flu.
Tompkins will send Staunch Friend to Leopardstown for the Irish Champion Hurdle and Halkopous, the runner-up, to Kempton for the Christmas Hurdle, but likely to miss that race is the faller King Credo. 'He's taken the skin off his knee and it's swollen,' his trainer, Steve Woodman, said. 'It's not realistic to get him to Kempton so everything will be geared to the Champion Hurdle.'
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