Patrick Murphy - Apprentice Jockey

Patrick Murphy, apprentice jockey
'Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I were a bit bigger, and couldn't be a jockey, because I've pretty much had my career path lined up for as long as I can remember.'

Patrick was born into a racing family in south-west Sydney. He knew he wanted to be a jockey from a young age and started riding race horses at age 15. During his final year at school he started his apprenticeship in the sport. He has spent time training in various country locations and in 2008, aged 23, won the Racing NSW Rising Star Apprentice Series. Patrick is 150 cm tall and, like most jockeys, has to work hard to keep his weight down for races.


Why did you become a jockey?

My family followed racing. My father worked in the industry. No one else in the family was a jockey and because I was a lot smaller than everyone else, and loved horses from a young age, I got labelled a jockey from the age of about five. Fortunately my body let me become one!

Do you ever wonder what you would have been if you hadn't become a jockey?

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I were a bit bigger, and couldn't be a jockey, because I've pretty much had my career path lined up for as long as I can remember. But I always wanted to be a jockey, I always had a love for it. I would never change anything now.

Have you ever been injured?

I haven't broken any bones but I have had a head injury during track work two months before my first ride in a race. I'm very fortunate as it's a dangerous job and many jockeys have been seriously injured.

How do race weight requirements work?

It's about handicaps, which attempt to make the racing more even; so the best horse in the race has a heavy weight allowance and is allowed a heavier rider, and the horses at the other end of the scale have the lightest weight allowance, so can only have lighter riders. So jockeys could get away with just riding 'heavy' horses but it limits their opportunities. It's the difference between having two opportunities and having five or six.

Do you have to watch your weight?

It's a constant battle to keep it down. 'Riding heavy' limits your opportunities, so if you can 'ride light' it really opens a lot of doors. It's hard work but you've really got to keep your weight down.

FYI Riding light and riding heavy are horse-racing terms referring to the jockey's weight. Heavier jockeys can ride on horses with a better racing history and a bigger handicap.

How do you keep your weight down?

We dehydrate ourselves. I struggle with my weight but I don't have any fat on me, so to get down to the light weights I have to ride, I have to dehydrate my body. Before a race I have to lose anything between one and two kilos. The only way to do that is to dehydrate myself, so I'll have a hot spa or sauna to make myself sweat.

Does that mean you can't eat before a race either?

We don't eat much before the race day. But I'm never really that hungry because I'm dehydrated so I'm just really thirsty. Even if I have a heavy ride I'm out of the habit of eating so I don't eat much.

What do you do when you finish your apprenticeship?

It's similar to any other trade: I have a boss who is a horse trainer; I work for him and he gets me rides in races and also guides me and tells me what I'm doing wrong and where I can improve. And after the four years, which I've almost finished, I'll be working in the same industry, the same department, riding with the same people, but I'll be on my own, self employed. My boss is there to help me out at first, to help me with my money and things like that. Just like a normal trade.

How do jockeys get chosen for races?

I am managed by jockey management company Thoroughmanagement. My manager rings up trainers, or they ring my manager, and if I get offered two rides in one race, it's my manager's job to sort out which is the better horse for me. She also sorts out my daily business. The bulk of this sort of work gets done during the day when I'm out riding. My manager needs to be in the office while I'm at the races; I need her to organise everything.

Are you competing a lot these days?

Yeah, I've been very busy lately. Sydney's been very competitive. There are a lot of international jockeys coming to ride in Sydney. As long as you get to work for some of the big stables it's pretty good, you can always keep your head above water.

How often do you train?

We run track work most mornings with the horses which is our fitness training as well. But on days I'm not riding I'll always dedicate at least half an hour to going for a walk and then going home and having a hot bath to have a bit of a sweat, to keep my weight down. I keep the routine and keep fit and healthy. Jockeys can't do much drastic exercise or we'll bulk up too much. We can only do slow repetition work, not intense work.

What do you do when you meet a new horse you're going to ride?

It's one of these things that comes naturally after you ride a lot of horses. At first the trainer will usually tell me the horse's traits, what it likes and dislikes, and different characteristics about it. I keep all that in mind but I still always have my wits about me with a horse that I don't know. It could be different to what the trainer said or it could have a different response to different things. You generally ride all the horses the same but I'm ready to change to meet the horse's needs.

Congratulations on winning the Racing NSW Rising Star Apprentice Series in 2008. What does this mean for you?

Thanks. It was a whole series of races we had with just the apprentices. The races took place all over the state, they were another competition that gives apprentices another opportunity to get rides and to ride winners.

What's the secret of being a good jockey?

There are a lot of things that make a good jockey. But one of the main things is you have to be a good horseman. You have to have skills with a horse because you get new horses all the time so you have to get along with a horse and respect it. It also comes down to the way you present yourself to trainers, the way you talk to trainers and let them know how their horse is going. You need to have really good judgment of a race and what to do next. You've always got to be alert in a race. A good jockey does everything really well, they just have the whole package and they look nice and neat on a horse – very balanced, very polished.

Can you choose your own colours on your vest?

No, the colours I wear depend on the horse and the owner of the horse. They could own a few hundred horses and if you ride with them you nearly always wear their colours. So some days you get eight rides with eight different sets of colours.

What advice would you give someone who wants to become a jockey?

Give it a good go. It's one of the jobs where you really have to be dedicated from the start. You can't do it half-heartedly. But once you get into it you should really develop a love for it because it's a great job. It's got great benefits and there are not a lot of jobs where young people can make the money that jockeys can make at such a young age, and meet great people and travel around Australia and the world. It's a good opportunity and there are a lot of benefits.

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