BRITISH Champion Jockey Oisin Murphy was seen at his very best in Sunday’s Group 1 Japan Cup, the 1m4f feature at Tokyo, sneaking up the rail to snatch victory aboard Suave Richard. It may have been the first Japan Cup staged without any international horses but it was won by a brilliant international rider as Murphy, the new Champion Jockey of British racing, dazzled on the global stage. A love affair between man and nation was born last year when Murphy spent the winter riding in Japan. He was eager to return and will remember the second stint for the rest of his life after perfectly guiding the Yasushi Shono-trained Suave Richard to victory and an enormous first prize of £2,167,824.
All week long Japanese racing fans, administrators and journalists had been perplexed and disappointed by the absence of foreign challengers. They will likely now also be concerned that the attendance of 80,826 was by far the lowest in the contest’s recent history, down from 98,988 12 months ago and the 1995 high of 187,524. Yet Tokyo Racecourse still felt busy and loud, as it most definitely did for the triumphant jockey. “I’m absolutely over the moon,” said Murphy. “It’s one of the biggest achievements of my short career. I’m thrilled.” There had already been some very big achievements, not least the four Group One wins secured last year aboard the mighty Roaring Lion.
The colt’s death this summer hit Murphy hard but there has been welcome cheer in recent weeks, with his championship title followed by Group One glory on Kameko and now success in the Japan Cup. As so often in sport, however, luck played its part. Murphy would have partnered Curren Bouquetd’or had he been able to make her 8st 5lb weight. Instead the 24yo switched to Suave Richard, a 5yo who had lost his previous seven starts. Murphy believed headgear might make his new mount run faster. When the duo swept past Curren Bouquetd’or just before the furlong pole, it was obvious Murphy had been right. “Suave Richard is a class horse and the trainer did a great job,” said Murphy.
“They were very confident but it was my idea to put cheekpieces on him. I said beforehand that he galloped brilliantly in them, so it made sense to keep them on. His last few starts weren’t fantastic but I knew he had a great chance and everything went right in the run. I had a plan and, thankfully, it came off. “I wanted to go mad when we crossed the line but I had to behave because I’m in Japan!” Murphy will remain in Japan until well into 2020. It is possible that when back in Britain he might have the chance to be reunited with Suave Richard, whose owners will consider a European campaign, having this year seen the horse finish third in the Dubai Sheema Classic. That, though, is all in the future, which is exactly where Murphy’s mind is constantly fixed.
Even so, as he soaked up the acclaim of his new Japanese fan club, the present seemed pretty good as well. “This is a dream come true and a fantastic thing to happen,” said Murphy. “Last winter was my first stint in Japan and this was my first Japan Cup. I never really thought I might be winning a race of this stature but I have a great team around me. I’m thrilled. “We have some amazing meetings in Europe, like Royal Ascot and the Arc weekend, but this is a little bit different. It’s a big deal. This race gets newspaper coverage for weeks on end here. I presume it will be on the front pages of all the newspapers here. “There’s only one Japan Cup and to put my name on it is massive!”