JOCKEY Oisin Murphy’s career had shot out of the starting gate as fast as a champion Thoroughbred.
At 25, he was a British Flat Racing champion, had been dubbed the “new Frankie Dettori” and one of the few privileged jockeys to ride on behalf of the Queen.
In April last year, he paid tribute to Prince Philip, who had died a few days earlier, by wearing a black armband as he rode Her Majesty’s beloved horse, Tactical, to victory at Newmarket.
But in November his world came crashing down when he was banned from racing for 14 months for alcoholism and Covid offences, and handed a hefty £31,000 fine.
Ahead of a major new documentary in which he stars, Oisin tells The Sun: “I put myself in a dangerous place by drinking too much.
“I know that I am currently the black sheep of horse racing, but I hope that by sharing my struggles, I will help others.
“I have been sober now since October 7 and I am determined to show that I can stay on track.”
Oisin’s booze addiction saw him sink 25 beers in ten-hour binges.
The three-time champion jockey explains: “My last ride would be at 6pm and I would start drinking as soon as I got in the car. I would keep drinking until I fell asleep.
‘I fell on the trap’
“But you can’t make the right decisions when you’re drunk ten hours a day.
“I didn’t want to get off the roller coaster, and when things were good, I drank, and when things were bad, I drank. I would regularly go blank, but it became the norm.”
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Prime Video’s Fly-on-the-wall Horsepower series offers a never-before-seen glimpse of what life is really like running Kingsclere, one of the world’s leading horse stables.
Viewers will get to see Oisin, 27, come to terms with his bad boy reputation as he works the 150-year-old yard in Newbury, Berks, owned by his boss and trainer Andrew Balding, brother of presenter Clare.
As well as the Queen’s mares, Balding’s clients also include former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and the Qatari royal family.
Oisin’s 14-month ban came after he admitted breaking Covid rules, misleading the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and engaging in disruptive conduct.
He was also found guilty of two alcohol offenses after failing breathalyzer tests in May and October 2021.
The jockey had flown to Mykonos in September 2020 when he was on the Government red list and returned to horse racing without isolating himself.
He had tried to convince officials that he had instead been to Lake Como in Italy.
In the two weeks after his return from the Greek island, Oisin rode 74 horses, 11 of which won.
At the BHA’s independent judicial panel, Chairman James O’Mahony criticized Oisin, telling him: “As affected as he may have been by addiction, we concluded that he thought he was above the rules and the law.
And you are not above them. They apply to everyone. All you had to do was isolate yourself.”
Oisin did not contest any of the charges and blamed his behavior on drinking: “Drinking was the rock on which I perished. People had told me that this could happen, but I couldn’t help it and fell into the trap. Since then, Oisin has been attending counseling sessions twice a week, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He reveals: “Some weeks I can go to AA three times a week, other weeks once.
“Counseling is set in stone twice a week and I always feel much better when I leave. It has helped me a lot in my recovery.”
The Irish jockey moved to England at the age of 17, dreaming of carving out a successful career like his famous uncle Jim Culloty, trainer and Gold Cup-winning jockey from Cheltenham.
It wasn’t long before top trainer Balding singled him out as a future winner of the award and Oisin rose through the ranks to be crowned British Jockey Champion in 2019, 2020 and 2021.
But behind the scenes, Oisin had turned to alcohol to cope with the pressures of million-pound horse racing.
He says: “As a kid I dreamed of racing these big races around the world and all of a sudden I got there. But after a while I found myself wanting to run away and started drinking a lot.”
He says he ignored his first big wake-up call when he tested positive for cocaine after a race in France on July 19, 2020.
He recalls: “A month after that race, my sister sent me a screenshot of my results from the [French regulator] France Gallop. I realized that I had failed a test for cocaine.
“As soon as I saw it, I called [Balding] and said: ‘Look, I didn’t drink coke.’
“I did another test that can accurately show if you have used drugs for three months and it came back clear.” The initial positive test could be explained by Oisin having sex the night before his trip in Chantilly with a partner who later discovered that she had used cocaine.
Oisin says: “I hired a French lawyer to help me prove [that it was contamination].”
‘They lost patience’
After proving his case at a hearing, the six-month ban was reduced to three, but Oisin admits he was naive to ignore calls for time out.
He says: “I tried to stop drinking, but I would go a day or two without drinking and then start again. But when I failed another breathalyzer test in October 2021, I knew enough was enough.
“That’s when I made the decision to get sober.” Shortly after turning his back on alcohol, Oisin was officially banned from competing until February 2023.
He vows never to drink again, saying, “I’m determined to show everyone that I can do it.
“Counseling has helped. I don’t run away from those situations where there is drinking.
“I am very happy to watch football with friends who will have a few beers, but the bottom line is I can’t have a beer, then I will have 25 beers and tomorrow I will have the same.”
Oisin describes the last 11 months as some of the most difficult he has faced and reveals that Horsepower, which was filmed between the fall of 2020 and the summer of 2021, has been cathartic. “When I saw the series, I realized how sick I was, but I hope it helps others,” he says. “I still keep notes on my phone of all the dumb things I did [when drunk] as a reminder. I have to show everyone that now I can stay sober and still ride.”
Oisin still has a lot to lose before he is allowed to return to racing, but he has been working out at the gym and competing in show jumping events.
He also draws strength from the willpower he displayed in the days following the breathalyzer test while awaiting the BHA’s verdict.
“I was actually in a race after that test,” he says proudly.
“What people don’t realize is the strength I had to muster to get on that cup. They had lost patience, but I recovered and managed to win.”
Oisin, who lives with his girlfriend Lizzy Nielsen, the daughter of racehorse owner Bjorn Nielsen, says his family has been his rock: “My girlfriend, my parents and [Balding] and his wife, Anna-Lisa, never turned their backs on me.
“I can’t thank you enough. Kingsclere have big clients and it must have been hard for them to see their main driver make so many mistakes.
“I hope the series gives a glimpse of what it’s really like to be a jockey.”
Oisin now has his sights set on winning a big race again, just like he did with the Queen.
He says: “The Queen was a very special lady. I met her at the stables and on race days and she was with the horses every step of the way.
“I would love to win some big races again for everyone who has believed in me.”
- Horsepower is available on Prime Video starting today.