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Oisin Murphy: Champion jockey had blackouts because of alcohol and feared for career

Champion jockey Oisin Murphy says he drank so much alcohol he had blackouts and feared it could end his racing career.

Murphy, 26, was given a 14-month ban in February for breaking Covid rules and two alcohol breaches.

“When I was happy I would drink, when I was sad I would drink,” he told BBC Sport.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve results, but I dealt with that pressure entirely in the wrong way.”

The Irishman says he was drinking “every day” at one stage, and tried and failed to give up alcohol a number of times, prompting him to consider quitting the sport.

“I might last a week or sometimes a month but it would spiral out of control again,” he said.

“By the time Goodwood came around in August [2021] I had blacked out every night of that week. OK, I was probably blacking out very early in the evening so I was fine the next morning, but I really couldn’t deal with the pressure and by the Breeders’ Cup in November I was ready to stop riding.

“Whether I rode well or poorly that day, whether I had winners or no winners, I dealt with it the same way – I got in the car with my driver and I started drinking. I had no set plan as to what would be my last drink that evening.”

Murphy said he was “filled with embarrassment” when he failed an alcohol test for the second time in 2021 at Newmarket in October, though it was that embarrassment that drove him to finally seek help.

“I think the first race was at 12:15 and there was no breathalyser when I pitched up so I weighed out as normal,” he said. “At about 11:55 the BHA had been tipped off that I had been drinking the night before and they asked me to blow on a breathalyser and I failed. I was filled with embarrassment.

“I had finally realised that my career was over unless I sorted myself out, and also the embarrassment I brought not only on myself but the people closest to me.”

Murphy voluntarily gave up his licence to seek support when he was charged by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) in December.

He faced five charges, two relating to failed tests for alcohol in May and October and separate counts of misleading or attempting to mislead the BHA over his location from 9-12 September 2020, as well as accessing a racecourse in breach of Covid protocols and acting in a way that prejudiced the reputation of horse racing.

The Irishman had gone on holiday in September 2020 to the Greek island of Mykonos, which was on the Covid red list at the time, but he had attempted to convince officials he had been at Lake Como in Italy.

“When I booked the holiday it wasn’t on the red list, and when it went on the red list I should have immediately changed my plans. Unfortunately I didn’t,” he said.

“I told the BHA I had gone to Lake Como and they had been informed I had been to Mykonos. Over the coming months they asked for my bank records and phone records, which they are entitled to do. And I had to put my hands up and tell them that I had not told the truth.

“I made a massive mistake and I am suffering from the consequences of that now.”

‘I really reached rock bottom’

Murphy says he was “unsure” whether he would be able to ride again when waiting for his hearing over the winter as he “knew the BHA were going to have to be as hard on me as they felt was necessary”.

He was ultimately was banned for 14 months and fined £31,111 after admitting all five charges. The suspension was backdated to 8 December, when Murphy had given up his licence, meaning he cannot reapply for it until 16 February, 2023.

Murphy says he is now sober and is seeking counselling and attending Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings, though initially found serving his ban tough when compared with the busy life of a high-profile champion jockey.

“I had to reach a level that I was happy and being content with doing very simple things. I’m very fortunate to live at the bottom of the gallops here in Lambourn and taking the dog for a walk and going to the local supermarket and buying shopping, and that might sound very strange but I really reached rock bottom in my eyes,” he said.

“I stayed off social media for a long time. I ended up being happy doing very normal stuff, and from then I started showjumping and getting back in the horse world, helping [trainer] Andrew Balding a couple of times a week and going racing irregularly.

“I feel like I have not got normality back in my life, but I’m wanted and needed again and that is a nice way to be.”

‘I want to get back in the saddle’

As he looks to the future Murphy says he has a “point to prove” when he returns to racing next year, though he says his recovery is an ongoing process.

“I want to get back in the saddle and show people that I’m healthy and I could get my life back together and win the races I haven’t won before,” he said. “I haven’t won enough Classics or a Derby or the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

“I can’t really portray how I felt throughout last year. There were a lot of low days – most days were low in fact. I’m fully sober now and I want to maintain how I am. That is day by day.

“I suppose when I return to the saddle I’ve got to be sure that I am still feeling this way. I can’t really live with the idea of failing another breath test. That’s why I’m still going to AA and still seeking help from my counsellor.”

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