Racing / The Dangers in Sport: Murphy critically injured after fall: FIA gathering reports on Formula One deaths as Irish jump jockey fights for his life in Liverpool hospital

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DECLAN MURPHY, the leading National Hunt jockey, was fighting for his life last night after sustaining severe head injuries while riding at Haydock Park.

The 27-year-old Irishman was in a critical but stable condition after undergoing surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain at Liverpool's Walton Hospital. The injuries occurred when his mount, Arcot, fell in the 18-runner Swinton Hurdle at the Lancashire course.

Murphy was only on the horse as a replacement. The six-year-old won at Cheltenham last month in the hands of another jockey, Graham McCourt, but he was suspended and unable to take the mount yesterday.

The blinkered Arcot was well backed but to the rear for much of the race, until making significant ground in the closing stages. As the leaders tackled the final obstacle, Murphy was in third place, but beaten, when his horse crashed through the timber.

'I saw him moving through the field and then he just went at the last,' Jeremy Glover, Arcot's trainer, said. 'He just went down and disappeared.'

The Irishman was thrown on to the hard ground and then swallowed up by the rest of the field, sustaining a kick from another horse, Cockney Lad, ridden by Charlie Swan. When medical staff reached the scene they found Arcot fatally injured with a broken pelvis (another horse, Nikitas, also died in the race, from a broken leg) and Murphy unconscious, his skull cap shattered.

The Newmarket-based jockey was removed from the course on a stretcher and placed into an ambulance mobilised by the trauma team of Warrington Hospital. The Haydock course doctor, who said that his patient was responding to commands, accompanied the Irishman to the Cheshire hospital, where he was said to be serious but not critical in the intensive care unit, suffering from serious head injuries.

After observation, Murphy was considered fit for further travel and transferred to the neurological unit of Walton Hospital in Liverpool, the North-west's specialist centre for head injuries, for a brain scan. His condition there later deteriorated to critical.

Murphy enjoyed his finest hour this season following another tumble from Arcot, at Cheltenham in November. After that crashing fall, he added to a big-race tally, which includes the Irish Champion Hurdle and Queen Mother Champion Chase, by riding Bradbury Star to victory in the Mackeson Gold Cup. He was so drained by his efforts that he collapsed in the winners' enclosure.

Declan Murphy has earned a reputation in National Hunt racing as a sophisticated jockey both in and out of the saddle. An eloquent man (he defended himself successfully at a Jockey Club appeal earlier this year over his riding of Bradbury Star in the King George VI Chase at Kempton), his riding style also speaks volumes. Of the 58 wins from 369 rides that put him in seventh place in the jockeys' championship yesterday morning, many had been obtained with graceful and well-timed swoops from the back of the field.

His main job is with Bradbury Star's trainer, the Findon-based Josh Gifford, who was saddling horses at Fontwell Park yesterday.

'We're just hoping and praying now that he will be all right,' the trainer said after hearing the news.

The terrible injuries to Murphy come at the end of a bleak few days for sport. Bradley Stone, the 23-year-old east London boxer, died of head injuries sustained in a bout at the York Hall, Bethnal Green, last week, and the motor racing Grand Prix at San Marino claimed two lives over the weekend. Twenty- four hours after Roland Ratzenberger, of Austria, died during qualifying, the Brazilian three-times world champion, Ayrton Senna, also succumbed to head injuries sustained in a crash in the race proper.

The last jockey to die in action in Britain was Philip Barnard, 24, the National Hunt rider, who sustained head injuries in a fall at Wincanton on Boxing Day 1991.

More reports, page 33

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