European Riders Murphy and Levey Look to Make Their Marks at Gulfstream

Oisin Murphy | Coady

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What is already arguably the deepest jockey colony in the country has grown even stronger this year as two of Europe's top riders, Oisin Murphy and Sean Levey, are joining the riding colony at Gulfstream Park for the championship meet.

Murphy, 28, is the more familiar of the two. He was the British flat champion jockey three years running in 2019, 2020 and 2021 and has ridden Group I winners in Great Britain, Ireland, France, Canada, Germany, Japan, the UAE and in the U.S. His three Grade I wins in the U.S. came in the GI Belmont Oaks, the GI Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup S. and in the GI Breeders' Cup Distaff with the Japanese invader Marche Lorraine (Orfevre {Jpn}).

While flat racing quiets down in the winter in Europe, Murphy had been traveling all over the world to compete in big races, going to places like Australia, Japan and Hong Kong. But the chance to settle in at one track in the winter, one that offers good purses and perfect weather, appealed to him. Gulfstream also represents a chance to master a new surface–dirt.

“I wanted to try to get some more experience on dirt,” he said. “At Gulfstream, most of the important races are on dirt. There will be ample opportunities to get plenty of rides and ride over what is an important surface. It's important for me to show that I can win races over all surfaces.”

Murphy is the retained jockey for Qatar Racing, the global racing and bloodstock operation founded and chaired by Sheikh Fahad bin Abdullah Al Thani and is the presenting sponsor of the Pegasus World Cup card. Murphy can count on riding the Qatar Racing horses that show up in the entries during the Gulfstream Championship meet.

“I have been watching American racing since I was a kid and I had always wanted to do a little stint in the States,” he said. “The opportunity came up for me this time. Sheikh Fahad, who heads Qatar Racing, had a conversation with [Chief Executive Officer 1/ST Racing and Gaming] Aidan Butler and he said he thought it would be a good idea for me to come here. I will try to do the best that I can, stay busy in the mornings and make a real effort to ride to the best of my abilities in the afternoon.”

Murphy plans to joining the Gulfstream colony Dec. 27 and, except for a trip to Saudi Arabia for the Saudi Cup Card, intends to ride full time at Gulfstream at least until through January.

“From the first time I stepped across the Atlantic and came to the U.S,. I wanted to ride against these top guys,” said Murphy, who is 4-for-31 lifetime in the U.S. “I won the Belmont Oaks on Aspen Grove, won the Queen Elizabeth II on Mawj and I won a Breeders' Cup race in the Distaff. I have a huge amount of respect for the top riders here. Hopefully, riding against them will help me pick up a huge amount of knowledge and help me to learn their riding styles. I already have a good relationship with those guys.

Like Murphy, Levey, 35, is looking for new opportunities and a challenge. He said he usually spent his winters riding on the all-weather tracks in Great Britain, but wanted to try something different.

“I think I'm at the point in my career where I've been riding on the all-weather tracks in England during the winter for quite a few years,” he said. “There's nothing more that I can learn. This is a great opportunity to do something different and to put me in a good place for the season ahead. I was put in touch with the right people and they were looking for European riders to take part in the festival over here. It was an opportunity. It's not just the better weather, it's the better prize money. There are a lot of things that are better about riding here versus in the winter back home.”

Levey was born in Swaziland and his father was a jockey who rode all over Europe. In 2001, the family moved to County Tipperary, Ireland, where his parents worked at Ballydoyle for trainer Aidan O'Brien. Levey rode out for O'Brien and, together with his brother Declan, spent a year on the pony racing circuit. He started riding professionally in Ireland before moving on to Great Britain. He's won six Group I races, four in the U.K. and two in France.

He said he has made some connections with U.S. trainers when coming over with O'Brien horses for the Breeders' Cup and other major events. He's also spent some time in the U.S. working as an exercise rider.

“I'm hoping to make more contacts, but I worked with Saffie Joseph and he said come here and see what we can do,” Levey said. “I also have worked for Brendan Walsh.

“I'm coming over with no other plan than to gain as much experience as I can,” he said. “I'm coming over here with an open mind and will try to get as many rides as I can and gain as much experience as I can. If that comes with my getting a few winners that would be great. I'm coming here to be competitive. I know how many good riders are here and I know that lessens my chances of getting some good rides. It will be very competitive. But once I get my foot in the door that will lead to my getting a few winners.”

Levey hopes to begin riding next week and says his work visa lasts for 90 days.

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