On the 4th July 2017, a remarkable story began. Shortly before four o’clock on a glorious summer day, a 25 year old by the name of Olly Murphy saddled his first ever runner, Dove Mountain, at Brighton in a lowly 0-55 handicap. The horse won, easily, to obvious celebration from young Olly and his team.
That was Tuesday and, by Sunday evening, Murphy had his second winner, this time the hurdler, Gold Class. Gold Class was one of two horses he saddled in the race, the other – Banff – finishing second.
On 11th July, just a week after Murphy sent out his first runner/winner, he had three horses entered. Although none of the trio won, two – Skilled and Sky Of Stars – finished second, the former ‘bumping into one’ in the shape of the very well handicapped Bestwork. Still, this was a strong start: two wins, three second places and two unplaced from his first seven runners.
A few more quiet days and then it was Sunday again, the 16th July. A brace of entries at Southwell and a third at local course, Stratford, would provide Murphy with a double which should have been a treble. Pershing, hitherto a 28-race maiden, and Sky Of Stars, a dozen races without a win to that point, both got off the mark; but it was a case of what might have been as a rare misjudged ride from the ultra-reliable Richard Johnson probably cost Varene De Vauzelle victory, and a notable trio for the new boy.
Back on the level the following day, Sevilla ran well to finish fourth, meaning that, after a fortnight with a license, Olly Murphy had racked up four winners, four seconds and just three unplaced efforts from eleven runners. The three out of the frame all came in flat races, with the National Hunt octet all finishing on the exacta ticket.
By now, the media had stood up and taken notice. The Guardian ran a story on Murphy; Racing UK broadcast a feature on the young handler; and Betfair signed him up as a content provider. Little old geegeez.co.uk also flagged his punting utility and suggested Murphy was worthy of blind support in coming weeks in this post.
So far, so good: a dream start as the trainer himself had put it.
But it was going to get better…
Two more flat runners on Thursday would yield another unplaced animal, the previous scorer Dove Mountain, but also a second flat winner, courtesy of Jazz Legend, dropped back a furlong after defeat on his maiden run for the yard. Five winners and four seconds from 13 runners.
By this point, like every other syndicate manager in the country no doubt, I had begun to ponder the prospect of stabling a horse at Warren Chase Stables, the Wilmcote base from which Murphy operates. By the end of the weekend, I was soul-searching more deeply about what exactly was happening here, and how sustainable it might be.
That was because, yesterday, Murphy won all four races in which he entered horses. Knight Commander bolted up in a novices’ handicap hurdle at Newton Abbot to start the ball rolling. All roads then led to Stratford, five miles from Warren Chase, where a Murphy quartet contested three races. Cliffside Park ran in the seller and, though nudged out of favouritism, won “like an odds on favourite should”, at 11/8.
Skilled, who jumps fences like me, made it a treble despite hitting almost every obstacle on the way round. He can’t go up much for this effort, but would have won twenty lengths if lifting his hooves with more alacrity.
It was then left to a pair of relatively unfancied horses to round out the remarkable four-timer, Hongkong Adventure and Mizen Master (you clearly don’t need to spell to name racehorses). The former was preferred of the pair, at no shorter than 6/1, while the latter was largely unconsidered at 10’s behind a solid jolly from the Dan Skelton yard that traded at 5/4.
The Skelton horse, Wynford, undoubtedly ran his race, finishing a game four length second; but he was no match for Mizen Master, who just kept galloping.
That quartet parlayed at 154/1, a £1 yankee paying £459.16 if you landed on the right one of the pair in the last leg; and I know of a number of geegeez subscribers who emailed or tweeted to say they were on, thanks to either last week’s post or the Trainer Snippets / Trainer Statistics reports. Nice job.
So here we are, not three weeks after the debut runner of Olly Murphy Racing, and already the rising star has saddled nine winners from 18 runners, a 50% clip. Moreover, from a dozen National Hunt starts, just one horse has failed to make the frame.
I’m a cynical, but generally reasonable, old buzzard so when I see stats like this I want to know how, and why. After all, the beaten trainers – the likes of Dan Skelton and Nigel Twiston-Davies – are established master practitioners in their field.
Having initially ruminated on far more nefarious possibilities (shame on me), I found my answer where all such answers should lie: in the form book.
Olly Murphy is the son of Aiden Murphy, bloodstock agent, and Anabel Murphy, racehorse trainer. Mum trains a quarter mile away, next door. At this stage I can only guess – and I really wish I knew/could corroborate – the relationship between Olly and John Joseph Murphy. My guess is that JJ is his uncle. What I do know, as it has been well documented, is that Olly spent four years as assistant trainer to the winning machine Gordon Elliott, a role he occupied until April of this year.
That is a comprehensive and excellent grounding, and it is important context for the form profiles of a number of the Warren Chase runners which follow. Let us first consider the winners:
Enjoyed four wins in the care of Gordon Elliott before switching to Anabel Murphy at the turn of the year. Six runs yielded a second, third and fourth – and a slipping of the rating from 60 to 55 – before Olly’s breakthrough winner on 4th July.
Formerly trained by Robert Alan Hennessy in Ireland, for whom he was 0 from 20, though having run with relative credit on a few occasions. Off the track since October last year, he won by six lengths at 16/1 on debut for his new yard.
Another former inmate of Hennessy’s, this time a 28 race maiden (!) including a handful of flat runs for Brian Meehan and Marco Botti in 2013/14. Rated as high as 116 over hurdles for Hennessy, this fellow had clearly hinted at ability but looked to have lost his way until being freshened by his new surroundings. He too was off since October 2016 and won by eight lengths for new connections.
Sky Of Stars
Average on the flat – rated 70 – for Richard Hannon, briefly, and then William Knight, he had four runs in novice and maiden hurdles for Anabel Murphy before being awarded a timber-topping handicap mark of 90. Followed up a debut second for Olly with a narrow verdict five days later, prior to being re-assessed. He went up to 94 for the second place and, tomorrow, will receive his revised perch for the win, likely just a couple of pounds higher.
Rated as high as 85 as a juvenile when in the care of James Given, brief stints with Robert Cowell, Mandy Rowland and, most recently, Anabel Murphy had seen his mark plummet to 50. After a moderate, but still career best, all weather effort – for which he’s impeccably bred, being by Scat Daddy out of a Candy Ride mare – Jazz Legend hit the right notes at Leicester in a basement handicap on his second run for the yard.
Another ex-William Knight horse, Knight Commander was a 15 race maiden on the flat with a fair rating of 77 at his peak (dropping to 65 on his final start for Knight). Then moved to Anabel Murphy where three middling runs in juvenile hurdles paved the way for an opening handicap figure of 95 and a switch to Olly Murphy. Knight Commander won by 16 lengths on handicap debut and will very likely turn out under a penalty before the middle of next week (entered at Uttoxeter on Friday).
Probably the smartest horse with form in the yard, this chap was previously with Elizabeth Doyle in Ireland, where he’d earned a career high rating of 128. Still rated 122 in this seller, he was entitled to win if not suffering a recurrence of the burst blood vessel issue that has troubled him. Win he did and, in similar races where he can boss his field without coming off the bridle, he may go in again. Punters must be aware of the likelihood of his finishing position being binary, however.
With Gordon Elliott (won two) until mid- to late 2016, then moved to Anabel Murphy. Four runs moved the hurdle rating from 111 to 100 and the flat mark from 74 to 67. Second to very well handicapped horse (Bestwork, winner of three of last four starts) on stable/chase debut before, as mentioned above, winning in spite of uprooting most of the birch en route. Remains well handicapped if he can improve his jumping.
Six race (five flat, one hurdles) maiden for John Joseph Murphy before acquiring an opening mark of 104 after two non-descript runs for Anabel Murphy. Won on handicap debut for Olly Murphy, beating 5/4 favourite Wynford – a last time out winner – by 4.5 lengths, with 17 lengths back to the third placed horse, who was 7/2 second market choice. Another likely to get entries before being re-assessed.
So those are the winners, with some interesting patterns emerging. But what of the non-winners to date? Murphy has saddled 14 different horses thus far, nine of them winning. These are the back stories of the quintet yet to savour triumph from the barns at Warren Chase:
Eleven race maiden for Chris Wall, she was well beaten in a low grade handicap a fortnight ago, and is entered on Wednesday at Leicester. The handicapper has left her on 54 after she lost all chance at the start that last day, an effort through which it is easy to draw a line. She remains potentially well-handicapped.
Seven race maiden on the flat for John Joseph Murphy, he had three runs in maiden and juvenile hurdle company for Anabel Murphy before making his handicap bow for Olly Murphy off 100. Beaten only by stable mate Gold Class two weeks ago and has entries at the end of this week off the same peg.
Varene De Vauzelle
21 race maiden for James Ewart and Michael Hourigan before moving yards in the spring. Victim of the annual poor ride from ultra-reliable Richard Johnson when just held at Southwell last week, and looks sure to be bumped up from his hurdle mark of 89 when re-assessed tomorrow.
Thirteen race maiden for John Joseph Murphy (seven runs) and Anabel Murphy (six) before finishing fourth on debut for Olly. Had three hurdle runs for Anabel but not yet awarded a mark in that sphere. It was a claimer in which he was beaten last week and it is a selling handicap for which he is entered on Wednesday. Capable of winning at that level but perhaps no higher.
Four race flat maiden for Rae Guest, before three lacklustre runs in juvenile/maiden hurdle company for Anabel Murphy. Handicap / yard debut yesterday for Olly off 105 when better fancied of two for the trainer but trailed home well beaten. Plenty of horses don’t act around the tight turns of Stratford and he may be forgiven on that basis. Worth another try at least, given lesser fancied stablemate won the race well.
There are some strong patterns emerging, not least of which is that Olly Murphy looks to be a very good trainer in the making. There is more to the early part of this story than that, however, and the sub-plot deserves an airing.
Of Olly’s nine winners, six have been inherited from mum, Anabel. Indeed she managed to secure a handicap hurdle mark for three of the winners and two of the non-winners to date.
Trying to ascertain the ability of a new trainer on a small sample size is not easy, but there are grounds for feeling that at least a subset of the Warren Chase winners to date were, if not penalty kicks then at least clinically converted one-on-one’s.
This, by now, will not be news to forensic form students as the new kid on the block notched first a debut winner, then a double (which should have been a treble) and most recently an incredible four-timer.
There are reportedly four ‘summer’ horses still to run, three of which appear on the website as Mullaghboy (four ‘nothing’ runs for Stuart Crawford to date), Wood Pigeon (seven runs for JJ Murphy, two for Anabel Murphy, now rated 100 over hurdles; should be competitive on soft ground at around three miles), and The Geegeez Geegee.
It is the last named which holds the most interest for me. Firstly, he has been acquired from a very (very!) good trainer in Anthony Honeyball, so it will be fascinating to see if TGG can be freshened/improved from there. And secondly, as the name suggests, he was formerly owned by a syndicate of geegeez.co.uk readers, and myself, who know the animal inside out.
The reason for my acute interest in Olly is that, as stated, I’m giving serious thought to syndicating a horse with him – as I’m sure are countless others. It is important to me that I understand the modus operandi of trainers who look after my/our horses, hence the deep dive.
It has been an enthralling exercise, and one after which I’m more inclined to want to support this new name. To be clear, I don’t believe the Murphy’s have done anything wrong – the fingerprint is very quickly discernible to anyone who cares to look – and I admire the orchestration with which this training career has begun.
Moreover, the improved showing from the likes of Gold Class, Pershing and Varene De Vauzelle demonstrate that much of the Elliott magic has rubbed off on his protégé, and that Olly Murphy may well be fast-tracking to the top table of the winter game if his summer ‘pre-season friendly’ results are anything to go by.
This will be a space that continues to be well worth watching…