Ten-times Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer Ferdy Murphy has died at the age of 70 following a long battle with cancer.
Murphy was responsible for many talented, as well as popular, jumpers from the moment he took out a licence in 1990 and especially when based at Wynbury Stables in West Witton in North Yorkshire from 1996 to 2013.
The Wexford-born trainer then took the bold and surprising move of relocating to a farm in Upper Normandy in France in search of better prize money and to be near his eldest daughter, Caroline.
Murphy continued his breeding business there, as well as buying and selling young stock, and training on a smaller scale.
Murphy’s son, Barry, told the PA news agency: “It’s a sad day, but he’s in a better place.
“We had some amazing days. He’s a true great, in my opinion.
“He had some amazing horses over the years, even when they were running in Geoff Hubbard’s name and before that with Bill Durkan – horses likes Anaglogs Daughter.
“He was a pure genius and he was a master of getting one well handicapped for Cheltenham, which is very hard to do these days as if you’re too well handicapped, you won’t get in.
“He was brilliant at producing a horse for a big day.”
The horse widely regarded as the best Murphy trained was French Holly, who was a devastating 14-length winner of the Royal & SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at the 1998 Cheltenham Festival – and third to the legendary Istabraq in the Champion Hurdle 12 months later.
The imposing gelding made the perfect start to his career over fences at Wetherby in October 1999, but died in a schooling accident the following month.
Andrew Thornton steered French Holly to each of his eight victories over obstacles, which also included the Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown and the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton in 1998.
Thornton said: “The first time I rode for him was on French Holly in a good novice hurdle at Ayr as all the big boys were at Cheltenham. They were looking for a jockey in the top six and they thought I would suit him as French Holly was a big horse and I was tall with long legs.
“Ferdy said to me ‘remember he’s a good horse’ and I won on him.
“Adrian (Maguire) was Ferdy’s 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 foot tall.
“I had a few more rides for him through the years, but French Holly was the one and he made my career.
“For getting horses ready for Cheltenham, there was no-one better. His clock was set round the second week in March and they were ready. I felt it was then that Ferdy’s season started – Cheltenham, Aintree and Sandown.
“Ferdy was charismatic and just a true horseman because he trained the individual. A great man for asking questions and for making jockeys.
“It’s a sad time and thoughts go out to all the family. He was a massive influence to a lot of people.”
In 2002, Murphy brought a leading point-to-point rider named Davy Russell across the Irish Sea and provided him with his first winner as a professional jockey at Sedgefield later that year.
Russell’s spell as Murphy’s number one rider was relatively brief as he returned to Ireland in 2004, but not before teaming up with the likes of Truckers Tavern – who was runner-up to Best Mate in the 2003 Cheltenham Gold Cup.
Despite their parting of ways, Russell went on to ride two Cheltenham Festival winners for his former boss in Joes Edge in the 2007 William Hill Trophy and Naiad Du Misselot in the 2008 Coral Cup.
Now a three-times champion jockey in his homeland, Russell recalls his days with Murphy fondly.
He said: “We had some great days together and Ferdy was a fantastic mentor to me.
“When I came over to England, I was a long way from the finished article and he moulded me into a better jockey and took my career down a totally different path.
“He was also a very good friend and I owe him a lot.
“I was delighted to ride a couple of Festival winners for him after returning to Ireland.”
Grand National-winning rider Graham Lee also enjoyed a spell as Murphy’s stable jockey from 2006, before switching codes to become a full-time Flat jockey in 2012.
“Ferdy was a brilliant fella and a brilliant trainer,” said Lee.
“I was very lucky to ride some big winners for him on the likes of L’Antartique, Kalahari King, Aces Four and Another Promise, who won a Grade One at Punchestown.
“They were great times and all my thoughts are with his family.
“God rest him.”
Adrian Maguire also spent several years as Murphy’s principal jockey before being forced to retire due to injury in 2002.
Maguire rode over 1,000 winners including multiple big-race victories for Murphy.
He said: “It’s very sad news. He’s going to be very sadly missed by all his family and friends.
“Ferdy was a great man and a fantastic trainer. He was very old school and a great man to ride for as he never tied you down to instructions and let you get on with it. He knew the game inside out.
“Paris Pike winning the Scottish Grand National (2000) was a very good day and then there was Ballinclay King winning a Grade One in Aintree (2001), which was brilliant.
“There were good horses like Ackzo and Narrow Water and horses lasted with Ferdy as he minded them and gave them the time they needed.”
Another jockey schooled at Murphy’s Wynbury Stables was PJ McDonald.
McDonald steered the Murphy-trained Hot Weld to win the 2007 Scottish Grand National at Ayr as a 5lb claiming conditional and has now developed into a leading rider on the Flat – enjoying multiple Group One victories aboard the top-class filly Laurens.
McDonald told Sky Sports Racing: “Ferdy was the one person that saw something in me. I’d given it a kick for a good few years before I came over to England and couldn’t make a go of it. Lucky for me, Ferdy saw something in me and gave me the push and that’s where it all started.
“Ferdy was one of those people that took a positive out of every situation. If there was 10 negatives and one positive, he’d take the positive and focus on that.
“He kind of instilled that in me and worked on my good points and let the rest come to hand when it was good and ready, which showed a lot of confidence in me.
“Ferdy’s was going to be last job before I was going to pack in riding and try something else because I was still young enough. He was my last chance and luckily everything worked out.”