Oisin Murphy's fight to clear name revives memories of Havlin and Downey cases

By Andy Stephens@StevoGG
Thu 1 Oct 2020

Oisin Murphy is the bubbly banner boy of British racing. The youngest champion for many years with the world at his feet.

At the age of 25 he is closing in on 1,000 winners in Britain and has a second jockeys’ championship title seemingly in his grasp. He also has one of the most coveted jobs, and probably best-paid, as number one rider for Qatar Racing.

Punters trust and admire him, and his appeal has been universal. He has forged strong and lucrative ties in racing-obsessed Japan.

 Murphy has vowed to fight to clear his name (Focusonarcing)
Murphy has vowed to fight to clear his name (Focusonarcing)

He is universally popular and done more than most in recent years to help promote the sport, including in his role as an ambassador for Qipco British Champions Series.

Generus with his time and views, it was typical that he gave an interview on Racing TV at Chelmsford on Thursday to discuss the situation he finds himself in. Many others in the weighing-room would have declined.

Murphy strikes as a natural successor to his idol, Frankie Dettori. A confident and amenable young man capable of taking racing from the back pages to the front pages for all the right reasons, not the wrong ones.

So the news on Thursday that he failed a drugs test at Chantilly on July 19, when one of his three mounts was a colt called Positive, has understandably sent shockwaves through the sport.

It makes no sense. No sense at all.

Murphy has been was swift to offer a strong rebuttal and issued a statement insisting: “I have never taken cocaine in my life and I will do everything that I can to prove that I have not taken cocaine."

 Havlin also fought to prove his innocence
Havlin also fought to prove his innocence

That process has already begun. Within three days of being told he had failed a test, the rider had his own private test, involving hair strands, which returned a negative result.

Could it have been that Murphy’s positive sample was merely a consequence of environmental contamination?

We have been here before in recent years, with Rab Havlin and Robbie Downey. Both tested positive for cocaine after riding in France and, like Murphy, insisted they were innocent and that there had been miscarriages of justice.

In both instances, the Professional Jockeys Association fought hard to help them clear their names. But their battles were in vain and the BHA reciprocated the six-month bans that were issued.

During Havlin’s prolonged and expensive battle, Paul Struthers, chief executive of the PJA: “Rab's case highlights serious concerns for all other riders heading to France. France Galop does not operate testing thresholds designed to safeguard from false positives and therefore the risk of false positives is ever present.

"This situation was exacerbated by the fact that France Galop refused to disclose the levels present in Rab's sample and ignored the clear medical evidence from independent hair follicle sampling that he could not have taken cocaine.”

Downey was a guest on Luck On Sunday in January and explained the process he went through. Watch what he had to say for yourself, above.

Struthers was distraught after the BHA said Downey would have to serve a suspension handed down by French officials. “This is a really dark day for the BHA,” he said.

One way or another, it feels like Murphy’s unwelcome story has many more chapters to follow.

Oisin Murphy factfile

Born: September 6, 1995


Nephew of former jump jockey Jim Culloty, who won three Cheltenham Gold Cups on Best Mate and trained the 2014 winner Lord Windermere. Murphy began riding at the age of four and competed in pony races and show jumping.

Joined Culloty's Cork yard at the age of 13 before teaming up with trainer Tommy Stack two years later. Started riding out for Ireland's champion Flat trainer Aidan O'Brien at 16 and then moved to England as an apprentice for Andrew Balding in October, 2012.

First win came aboard Imperial Glance at Salisbury on June 16, 2013. Capped 2013 with a memorable four-timer on Ayr Gold Cup day, including in the feature race on Highland Colori. Had a three-month spell with leading Australian trainer Danny O'Brien in 2013/2014 and gained 13 successes. Crowned Stobart Champion Apprentice in 2014 after riding 91 winners.

Appointed second jockey behind Andrea Atzeni to Qatar Racing ahead of the 2015 Flat season and became first jockey to the organisation when Atzeni returned to trainer Roger Varian in late 2015.

Had his best season in 2018 when partnering 198 British winners, including Roaring Lion who gained four Group One victories.

Big-race Wins include: Coral-Eclipse (2018 Roaring Lion), Juddmonte International (2018 Roaring Lion), Irish Champion Stakes (2018 Roaring Lion), Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (2018 Roaring Lion), Dubai Turf (2018 Benbatl), Ebor Handicap (2015 Litigant), E P Taylor Stakes (2017 Blond Me), Prix de la Foret (2017 Acclaim), Sussex Stakes (2018 Lightning Spear), Haydock Sprint Cup (2018 The Tin Man), Nassau Stakes (2019 Deirdre), Falmouth Stakes (2019 Veracious), Kameko (2020 2000 Guineas), Alcohol Free (2020 Cheveley Park).

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