Ferdy Murphy: Cheltenham legend who honed craft behind the scenes | Sport

Ferdy Murphy, whose death at the age of 70 was announced on Tuesday, officially saddled 10 winners at the Cheltenham Festival, three Scottish National winner and a 40-1 winner of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. The form book does not tell the whole story of his successes, however. Murphy had been training big-race winners unofficially for a decade before finally taking out his own licence in 1990.

Born in County Wexford, Murphy started his racing career in the saddle and was apprenticed to Phonsie O’Brien, whose brother Vincent was one of the greatest trainers of the 20th century. Murphy later joined the stable of jumping legend Paddy Mullins, spending seven seasons at the yard as both stable jockey and head lad.

Murphy then moved to join leading owner Bill Durkan, officially as assistant trainer to Durkan but effectively in charge of the day-to-day running of the yard and training of the horses. The success of the outstanding mare Anaglogs Daughter in the 1980 Arkle Trophy was the highlight of their association, and it was followed by an unexpected return to the saddle for the man who had overseen her preparation.

Anaglogs Daughter was engaged to run at Chepstow a few days later but Tommy Carberry, her jockey in the Arkle, suffered an injury on the final afternoon of the Festival meeting. Jonjo O’Neill was booked to replace him but broke his collarbone in a fall the day before Chepstow, so Murphy stepped in for the ride. The clerk of the scales was perhaps a little generous in allowing him to weigh out at 12st 4lb, but if Murphy was riding at a pound or two overweight, it made no difference to the result as Anaglogs Daughter won by a distance.

Murphy moved to Britain to take up a similar role with businessman and owner Geoff Hubbard in the mid-1980s, when the major winners that, for the record at least, were trained by their owner include Gee-A, with Gee Armytage in the saddle, in the Mildmay Of Flete Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. The same horse later won the Foxhunters’ over the Grand National fences at Aintree with Murphy’s son, Paul, holding the reins.

Andrew Thornton on French Holly, one of Murphy’s most successful horses. The jockey described Murphy as “a true horseman”.

Andrew Thornton on French Holly, one of Murphy’s most successful horses. The jockey described Murphy as “a true horseman”. Photograph: Julian Herbert/ALLSPORT

Murphy’s decision to start training in his own name in 1990 quickly led to a wider appreciation of his talents, with Sibton Abbey, at 40-1, landing the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in November 1992. The horse was also one of the first big-race winners to be ridden by Adrian Maguire, who said on Tuesday that Murphy was a “fantastic” trainer. “He was very old school and a great man to ride for,” Maguire said, “as he never tied you down to instructions and let you get on with it. He knew the game inside out.”

The most successful period of Murphy’s career came after his move to Yorkshire’s Wynbury Stables in 1997. French Holly, undoubtedly the best horse he trained, was unbeaten in five novice hurdles in the 97-98 season, a run that culminated in a 14-length win in the Royal & Sun Alliance Hurdle at Cheltenham as 2-1 favourite. French Holly added another Grade One win in the Christmas Hurdle in 1998, and finished third behind Istabraq in the 1999 Champion Hurdle, but died in a schooling accident shortly after winning his first novice chase in 1999.

Murphy was a gregarious, easy-going and popular trainer who worked hard for his big-race successes and liked to celebrate just as hard afterwards. His double at the 1996 Cheltenham Festival, which included success for Paddy’s Return in the Triumph Hurdle, was enough to see him share the award for top trainer at the meeting with Eddie O’Grady and Martin Pipe.

Other major wins included those of Poker De Sivola (Bet365 Gold Cup), L’Antartique (Paddy Power Gold Cup) and Hot Weld (National Hunt Chase, Scottish Grand National and BetFred Gold Cup).

In 2013, Murphy announced an unexpected move to Normandy where he continued as a trainer while also buying horses to sell on, including the Festival winners Al Ferof and Cheltenian.

“Ferdy was charismatic and just a true horseman because he trained the individual,” Andrew Thornton, French Holly’s regular jockey, said on Tuesday. “Adrian [Maguire] was his stable jockey but he left me on his best horse. That tells you the kind of man Ferdy was and it makes you feel six feet tall.

“For getting horses ready for Cheltenham, there was no-one better. His clock was set around the second week in March and they were ready. I felt it was then that Ferdy’s season started: Cheltenham, Aintree and Sandown.”

Wednesday’s best bets, by Chris Cook

There’s been plenty of support for Strictly Art (3.00) in the staying handicap at Bath, for which he opened at 10-1 on Tuesday night but is now 13-2. From the Alan Bailey yard that hit form last month after a quiet spell, he should relish this return to a fast surface and has come down to his last winning mark, having been 11lb higher at the start of the year. Gavin Ashton is an interesting booking after a couple of recent winners.

The presence of Frankie Dettori has made Cobber Khan favourite for Chelmsford’s opener but the gelding’s claims are not otherwise compelling. The nicely bred and experienced Rocket Dancer (5.45) appeals at 5-2, though there has been interesting support for Strait Of Hormuz.

Hamilton has been abandoned because of waterlogging.

Southwell 1.40 Quic N’ Easy 2.10 Snapdragon Fire 2.40 Jaxlight (nb)3.10 Double Court 3.40 Slaine 4.10 Simply Loveleh 4.40 Jubatus

Uttoxeter 1.50 Cornish Warrior 2.20 Finalshot 2.50 Miss Tynte 3.20 Western Miller 3.50 Birch Vale 4.20 Between The Waters

Bath 2.00 Lorna Cole 2.30 Qinwan 3.00 Strictly Art 3.30 Geetanjali 4.00 Frantical 4.30 Amorously 5.00 Lalania

Hamilton 4.25 Trulove 4.55 Ventura Flame (nap) 5.30 Remmy D 6.00 Firewater 6.30 Makyon 7.00 Lady Calcaria 7.30 Mankayan

Chelmsford 5.45 Rocket Dancer 6.15 Furious 6.45 Interrogator 7.15 Dubai Warrior 7.45 Nazeef 8.15 Rogue 8.45 Kensington Art

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