The Week In Review: After 2,000 Wins The Hard Way, Next Goal For Murphy Is Retirement

The connections of Crypto Mo celebrate a win in the GIII Iowa Oaks | Coady Photography

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After 3 1/2 decades in the saddle, Cindy Murphy knows all too well how fate lurks with every hoofbeat when you're a jockey. Occasionally though, chance and risk manifest themselves in the form of good karma on the racetrack. On Saturday night at Prairie Meadows, the rewarding circumstances of the 61-year-old jockey's 2,000th career win seemed almost too scripted to be true.

Murphy's landmark victory aboard Crypto Mo (Mohaymen) in the July 8 GIII Iowa Oaks was her first lifetime graded stakes win after 18,131 lifetime mounts. It was also a neat “full circle” score for the Iowa native, because Murphy (who previously rode under the last names Springman and Noll) had piloted the first-ever winner in the history of Prairie Meadows when that track first opened in 1989.

Win number 2,000 also came with a family connection–Crypto Mo is trained and part-owned by her husband, Travis Murphy. Redemption also played a starring role: A little more than a year ago, that very same filly, then age two, flipped out in the starting gate at Prairie Meadows prior to her debut. Murphy sustained eight broken ribs, four pelvic fractures, and a tear in her abdominal wall, knocking her out of action until Apr. 1 this year.

“I know the screenwriters' guild is on strike, but Hollywood is missing out on a fantastic story here,” quipped the Prairie Meadows racing secretary, Stuart Slagle, when TDN phoned the racing office Sunday morning to track down a phone number for Murphy.

“It was perfect,” Murphy said with a buoyant laugh when reached a few minutes later. “I couldn't have planned it better, to be honest with you.”

Murphy–unlike some jockeys who seem to linger for a long time on the cusp of a milestone win–had only been parked at the 1,999 plateau for six days and a span of just four mounts. But that round number of two grand had been in her head as a target for almost half her lifetime.

“When I first started, I could envision 2,000 wins because I was rolling as a younger rider,” Murphy said. “The first thousand came along a little easier and quicker than the second thousand. I thought it would come a lot sooner, to be honest with you. I started getting injured. Then I stopped to have a few children, so it took me awhile. But if you had asked me five years ago? I would have said no, I'm not going to make it.”

Murphy graduated from Iowa's Muscatine High School in 1980 as an all-state track and cross-country runner. She starred in those two sports at Northeast Missouri State University, where she graduated with a focus in equine studies as one of the top 10 agriculture students in her class. She was later inducted into that college's athletic hall of fame, but by the time that happened in 1999, Murphy had long since transitioned from running in races to horsebacking in them instead.

Starting first as an exercise rider, and then trying her luck as a jockey in South America, Murphy's first victory came in Argentina in 1986. She relocated to Florida and won her first stateside race at Tampa Bay Downs on Dec. 8, 1987. After stints in the mid-Atlantic and a brief foray to New York, Murphy returned to the Midwest after outriding her apprentice allowances.

By 1994, Murphy was a Prairie Meadows mainstay at or near the top of the standings. Through the remainder of that decade she emerged as the nation's winningest woman rider on several occasions. She racked up lifetime score number 1,000 at Hawthorne Race Course in 1998, and also that year established a Prairie Meadows meet record with 112 victories.

A spate of injuries took their toll on Murphy as the 21st Century dawned, slowing her down, but not stopping her. In 2001, she fractured six bones, including her pelvis and ribs, in an Oaklawn Park accident. In 2004, she was sidelined by a broken wrist.

For a while, May 11, 2006, looked like it would be not only Murphy's last day in the saddle, but perhaps the last day she ever walked: A Prairie Meadows mount stumbled out of the gate, veered into another horse, and sent Murphy careening headfirst into the dirt.

“I broke my neck, and I had to be life-flighted to the hospital,” Murphy said on Sunday, recalling the accident matter-of-factly. “I was kind of paralyzed for a week, and I slowly came out of it. They weren't sure I was going to come out of it. But I'm one of the lucky ones, and I did.”

The severity of the spill was initially enough to cause Murphy to call it quits, acting upon the advice of her doctors. She had a surgery that fused her C5, C6 and C7 vertebrae together, and wistfully told the Des Moines Register, “I sure wanted to reach 2,000 wins, but my health is more important to me.”

Murphy and her husband, Travis, had bought a 160-acre farm near Remington Park in Oklahoma shortly before that accident, and she began contemplating other career choices, like going back to school to get a nursing degree. The couple, at that time, had begun focusing on legging up horses for outside clients. But eventually, without the pressure of pointing for another comeback or the day-to-day rigors of the racetrack, Murphy said the farm work with the horses won her over again. In 2008, she returned to competing in races at age 46.

“I really wasn't going to come back to riding,” she said. “But I started messing around, getting on a few. And then I guess I'm a little bit on the crazy side, and I wanted to ride a few more. And then I started creeping closer to 2,000, so I thought, 'Well, why not give it a shot?'”

Although that number remained etched in her brain, Murphy told TDN that the one thing she wouldn't grant any headspace to was the thought of getting hurt.

“I always tell the younger riders, if you get scared out there, you better hang it up. Because that's not a good thing when you're riding scared,” Murphy said.

Murphy's riding workload isn't what it used to be, and she hasn't topped 27 wins in a year in any of the past 15 seasons. She had a 2-for-26 record in 2022, with that season being cut short on June 19 when Crypto Mo sent Murphy on yet another unplanned vacation of rehab and recuperation, just eight wins shy of 2,000.

Despite her gate histrionics, the filly herself was not injured. With Cassidy Fletcher subbing for Murphy, Crypto Mo eventually debuted on July 17, 2022, and managed to win one of her first five starts. Early on as a sprinter, she didn't flash enough talent to suggest she'd be a future graded stakes victress.

But that changed on May 28, 2023, when, after having been reunited with Murphy, Crypto Mo stretched out to two turns for the first time and wired a first-level allowance at Prairie Meadows by a whopping 17 3/4 lengths.

Cindy Murphy rides Crypto Mo | Coady Photography

Crypto Mo, who cost $20,000 as a KEESEP yearling, then wired the $50,000 Panthers S. over a mile at Prairie Meadows June 10. On Saturday night, Murphy again asked her for speed from the get-go, and Crypto Mo was never headed in the $225,000 stakes, running her record to 4-for-8 while bankrolling $210,870 in earnings for the partnership of Travis Murphy, Matt Trent, and Triple V Racing. On Sunday, Crypto Mo was supplemented to the Fasig-Tipton July Selected Horses of Racing Age Sale.

“I thought win number 2,000 would come the previous weekend, when I was on a couple of live horses,” Murphy said. “And then [Friday} I had a horse that had a shot, but he didn't do it. But when the win finally came on Saturday, it was even better, because this was the filly I got hurt on last year, and it's one of ours, from our connections.

“We had a lot of supportive crowd there, so that meant a lot. Even trainer Dale Romans, he came in [and won] one of the big races, and he congratulated me and said, 'Man, ever since I set foot in Iowa, nobody can quit talking about you and hoping you would get your 2,000th win.'” Murphy recalled.

Asked what goal is next now that she's equaled the benchmark she's been chasing for decades, Murphy didn't hesitate in replying.

“I am almost 62 years old, and I promised my kids and my grandkids that I would retire soon. So I am going to finish up the Prairie Meadows meet and I am going to hang up my tack,” Murphy said.

“I need to spend more time with the grandkids. I've got five of them now. I go trail riding with them at the farm. We've got a bunch of soccer players in the family, so I'm always going to the kids' games. And my youngest son is going into his sophomore year at college. He's a big track star, and I go to all of his track meets. It will just give me more time to get to things like this, to spend more time with the family,” Murphy said.

“I'll probably help Travis train, and be his right-hand woman, so to speak. I'll probably still gallop and work horses for him. I don't get on the babies that much anymore; they're a little bit more unpredictable. But I am going to retire from race riding,” Murphy said.

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