Champion jockey Oisin Murphy, of Killarney, has spoken of his alcohol-induced blackouts and how he was genuinely concerned that his racing career was in grave danger due to his heavy alcohol use.
The 26-year-old was crowned leading Flat jockey for a third time last year, but he was also given a 14-month ban in February for violating Covid rules and for two alcohol-related offences.
The Kerry man – still regarded as one of the hottest and most talented flat jockeys in Ireland and Britain – has spoken candidly about the downward spiral of drinking that led to his suspension, as well as the physical damage his binge drinking inflicted on him.
“When I was happy I drank, when I was sad I drank. I put a lot of pressure on myself to get results, but I completely mishandled that pressure,” Murphy told me. BBC Sports† “I might go on for a week or sometimes a month (without drinking), but it would spiral out of control again.
“By the time Goodwood came around in August,  I blacked out every night that week. Okay, I probably blacked out very early in the evening, so the next morning I was fine, but I really couldn’t handle the pressure, and by the Breeders’ Cup in November I was ready to stop riding.
“Whether I rode well or badly that day, whether I had winners or no winners, I dealt with it the same way. I got into the car with my driver and started drinking. I didn’t have a set plan of what my last drink would be that night.”
In November 2021 in Newmarket, Murphy failed an alcohol test for the second time, and it seems it was the “embarrassment” of this second indiscretion that led him to address his problem and seek help.
“I think the first race was at 12.15pm and there was no breath test when I got up so I weighed as normal. At about 11.55am the BHA got a tip that I had been drinking the night before and they asked me to take a breathalyzer and I failed I was filled with shame.
“I finally realized my career was over unless I got myself straight, as well as the shame I brought not only to myself but also to the people closest to me,” said the Killarney man.
By this time, Murphy was facing five charges, two related to failed alcohol tests in May and October and separate counts of deception or attempted deception by the BHA about his location over three days in mid-September 2020, as well as access to a racecourse in violation of Covid protocols and acting in a way that damages the reputation of horse racing.
He voluntarily relinquished his jockey’s license when he was sued by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) in December, focusing instead on getting help for his problems.
In September 2020, Murphy told BHA officials that he had vacationed on Lake Como in Italy when, in fact, he was vacationing on the Greek island of Mykonos, which was on the Covid red list at the time.
“When I booked the holiday it wasn’t on the red list, and when he got on the red list I should have changed my plans right away. Unfortunately I didn’t,” Murphy said. “I told the BHA that I had gone to Lake Como and they had been told I had been to Mykonos. Over the next few months they asked for my bank details and phone details, which they are entitled to. And I had to lay my hands on standing up and tell them I hadn’t told the truth.”
Murphy was banned for 14 months and fined £31,111 after admitting all five charges. The suspension went back to December 8, 2021, when Murphy surrendered his driver’s license so that he can reapply for his driver’s license on February 16 next year.
He says he is now sober, attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings and in counseling, and after initially struggling to get away from the daily grind of racing, he has embarked on a life of recovery and relative simplicity .
“I made a huge mistake and now I’m suffering the consequences… [but] I had to reach a level where I was happy and content doing very simple things. I’m lucky to live here in Lambourn at the bottom of the gallop [between London and Bristol] and going for a walk with the dog and going to the local supermarket and shopping, and that may sound very strange, but I really hit rock bottom in my eyes.
“I stayed away from social media for a long time. I eventually became happy to do very normal things, and from that moment I started jumping and returned to the horse world, helping [trainer] Andrew Balding a few times a week and races irregularly.
“I feel like I don’t have normalcy back in my life, but I’m wanted and needed again and that’s a fun way to be.”
Murphy says his rehabilitation is an ongoing process, although he is already thinking ahead when he gets back into the racing saddle and competes again in the biggest races and against the best jockeys.
“I want to get back in the saddle and show people that I’m healthy and can get my life back on track and win the races I haven’t won before. I don’t have enough classics or a Derby or the Prix de won l’Arc de Triomphe.
“I can’t really describe how I felt last year. There were a lot of low days. Most days were actually low. I’m completely sober now and I want to stay the way I am. That’s day to day.
“I think when I get back in the saddle I need to make sure I still feel this way. I can’t really live with the idea of not passing another breath test. That’s why I still go to AA and still seeking help from my advisor.”