“Just going back over the mountain after schooling one. I’ll call you back if it cuts out.”
And that is life of a horse trainer in Virginia.
Battling cell service (the phone did cut out) and driving his truck and trailer, Jeff Murphy was on his way back to Ellerslie Farm, near the Blue Ridge Hunt Point-to-Point course on the other side of Paris Mountain last week. A trainer ever day and a jockey on the weekend, the 36-year-old trains 10 horses during the week and picks up spare rides on the weekends.
This spring, the Irish-born veteran got the call on two stars – winning the My Lady’s Manor aboard Lemony Bay and the Alfred Hunt aboard Saluda Sam. With racing at multiple venues on the same day, Murphy can be in demand.
“I suppose they call on experience at this stage, I’ve never been top flight, but I’ve been everywhere and ridden everywhere, I’ve won something everywhere, I’m tipping away,” Murphy said. “I’m not a jockey first and foremost, I’m training horses all the time, but I do love it and I think I’m riding as well as I ever did.”
With Sean McDermott and Willie McCarthy going to Tryon, leading trainer Jack Fisher tabbed Murphy for three-time winner Lemony Bay at the Manor April 15. The race played out like a sitcom rerun as Murphy placed Lemony Bay just off the pace of Grand Manan, then turned the faucet to win by a length.
“He was brilliant,” Murphy said.
With McCarthy at Tryon, Billy Meister recruited Murphy for course specialist Saluda Sam at Middleburg a week later. That was just as brilliant as Saluda Sam opened up 60 lengths and sauntered home over former hurdle winners Cognashene and Dye Fore. It was Saluda Sam’s fifth win and Murphy’s sixth over the varied course.
“He had so much weight on his back and the ground turned so soft, that I said, ‘I better use his jumping and ability and make them come and catch me,’ ” Murphy said of the 170-pound impost. “You never know what will happen in that race, I actually thought something had happened after we jumped the timber fence the guys were so far behind. I took a pull there and just cantered around, but it was never in doubt, he got a little tired in the ground, I was just two-minute licking.”
Meister had called Murphy to substitute for McCarthy back in March. Like taking the keys from Andretti.
“Willie told me all about him, he said just keep your revs up especially at the hedges, he knows he only has to jump through them,” Murphy said of his 63rd career hurdle win. “It’s funny, he’ll go through a hedge, then have the timber fence measured. I was just lucky to get on him. Billy called me ages ago, at least a month beforehand. You couldn’t ask for a better horse to go around there, he’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. He’s unreal at the hedges, he knows they’re not going to hurt him going that low. I wish I had one of those every couple of weeks.”
As for his day job, it’s working, too.
“I have three racehorses and babies coming and going,” Murphy said. “It’s enough to go on with through the summer months, I get real busy in the fall with yearlings.”
And, on the weekends with jumpers.