An E-mail Conversation With: Trainer Ferdy Murphy

'After rural Ireland Cheltenham was another planet'
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The Independent Online

What is your earliest memory of Cheltenham? When I was 16 I led up a horse for Phonsie O'Brien. The place made an unbelievable impression: we were fresh off the box in our wellies, and coming from rural Ireland it was like going to another planet.

Is the season-long emphasis on the Festival, and its expansion to four days, a good thing? Anything that makes you aspire to the top class is good and Cheltenham is the best, just magic. And there are that many horses in the system now, the expansion to four days had to happen. Even though they've invented some races, they have a valid place.

Your best Cheltenham moment? When Anaglog's Daughter won the Arkle Trophy in 1980. I trained her [under the name of her owners, the Durkan family], schooled her at home, did everything with her. We had only 10 horses and we'd never been mentioned until then. I even won on her at Chepstow, four days after Cheltenham.

And your worst? I've never had a real bad moment there. I've been blessed with the owners I've taken there and never had a horse injured there. If there is a disappointment, it's that they knocked down the old stable lads' block. The craic there used to be fierce, what we'd get up to was unbelievable. And unprintable.

How much of a problem is the absence this year of your injured stable jockey, Graham Lee? It's a huge blow. We work the whole yard around him; he's a fantastic rider. We've got about six runners, and we'd have had 10 if he was there. He's won races this year that I guarantee would frighten you. That's the difference; a good jockey wins races, a great jockey wins races he shouldn't.

You're the Festival's leading trainer based in the North. What made you move there when the power base is in the South? I didn't enjoy the rat race it was becoming in the South. It's heaven where I am now, a bit like Connemara, in the west of Ireland. People have time for you, will stop for a chat. There are some very nice people down south too, don't get me wrong, but there a lot who have their heads up their arses.

Have horses always been part of your life? When I was a child, in rural Wexford, we had a 120-acre farm, no car – I went to my first communion in a pony and trap – and no tractors, just a team of workhorses. And if anything happened to one of them it was nearly worse than one of the family dying. The horses had to work hard and my father put massive emphasis on feeding. We were brought up that horses were your lifeblood and without them you were banjaxed.

Did you ever think of doing anything else? When my weight got a bit heavy for being a jockey, I dipped into the building trade in London. There was good money in it and I got a few quid together. But the lure of horses was too strong and I went back to Ireland to work for Paddy Mullins.

Training racehorses at your level is a major operation. What is your prime role? A trainer is everything – a businessman, a football manager, headmaster, a father, sometimes a mother, sometimes a priest to hear confessions, sometimes a devil to kick arses. But we're lucky, because the vast majority of the workforce in racing is better and more dedicated than any other industry, because we're dealing with animals. And they come from all over the world. My head lad is Pakistani, my head travelling girl is Scottish, one of my best lads is Japanese; he came after seeing my website. We have some here who don't speak English yet, but that's no problem because we have the common language of horse. And when we get a good lad we hold on to him or her. You're only as good as your staff in this game.

Cheltenham is the tops – but what about the rest of the sport? What racing needs is an audience and we need to look after racegoers. But what the British Horseracing Authority have done is to bring in too much rubbish racing to increase bookmakers' profits, of which the sport gets 10 per cent. And that's a big mistake – in any sport, people will go and watch quality, not quantity, and if they go racing to watch decent horses they'll bet anyway. They don't want to be watching shite every day of the week, which is what these so-called whizz-kids at the BHA have brought in.

Is Cheltenham your favourite course? No, Sedgefield is. We have a lot of winners there and it's only three-quarters of a mile from the yard. They have a fantastic groundsman, Mark Davison, who does a wonderful job with the surface. You don't get many lame ones there.

Where do you stay for the Festival? The hoteliers are a bit of a bugbear for me. Never mind Dick Turpin, these bastards rob you barefaced. The place I stayed at last year quoted me £2,250 this time, so I said bollocks to that. I don't mind them making a bit, but nearly £600 a night is just greed. I'm staying at a new place this time, next to the track, for £1,000, still not cheap. I could stay there for £57 a night next week.

What is your pet hate? People who won't put in graft to reach their ability. You see young riders getting their heads turned and it's the same with young trainers. The first thing they have is a Mercedes when they should be driving a banger and spending the money on a good young horse.

The question of the moment – Kauto Star or Denman? Kauto Star. A no-brainer. He's unbelievable and getting better.

And who is your best this week? New Alco in the William Hill Trophy on Tuesday.


Born 6 November, 1948, Co Wexford.

Riding career Professional 1966-1982, over 100 winners. With Phonsie O'Brien in Co Tipperary; stable jockey and head lad to Paddy Mullins in Co Kilkenny.

Training career Private trainer to the Durkan family in Co Dublin, then (from 1986) to Geoff Hubbard in Suffolk. First public training licence 1994; now at Wynbury Stables, West Witton, North Yorkshire. Website:

Best horses trained Anaglog's Daughter, Sibton Abbey, Paris Pike, Gee-A, Paddy's Return, Hot Weld, Ackzo, Mac's Supreme, French Holly, Addington Boy.

Cheltenham Festival wins Anaglog's Daughter (1990 Arkle Trophy), Gee-A (1987 Mildmay of Flete Chase), Paddy's Return (1996 Triumph Hurdle), Stop The Waller (1996 Kim Muir Chase), French Holly (1998 Royal & SunAlliance Hurdle) Hot Weld (2006 NH Challenge Cup), Youre Special (2006 Kim Muir Chase), Joes Edge (2007 William Hill NH Chase), L'Antartique (2007 Jewson Chase).