Hugely promising young apprentice Oisin Murphy enjoyed a golden autumn in the UK, highlighted by his splendid 5,047.5/1 four-timer on the Ayr Gold Cup card, headlined by the feature-race victory of Highland Colori, trained by his boss Andrew Balding. Even so, he probably would not have headed off to Australia for his winter’s working holiday with any great expectations of racecourse success.
However, things are going really well for the young Irishman, whose uncle Jim Culloty was formerly best known as the rider of triple Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Best Mate but who is now as recognisable as the trainer of last season’s RSA Chase winner Lord Windermere.
Murphy is based at Flemington in Melbourne for a couple of months, working for Danny O’Brien, who has made raids on recent Royal Ascots with his good sprinters Star Witness and Shamexpress. O’Brien recently provided Murphy with his first winner in Melbourne when Settler’s Way won a handicap at Moonee Valley on the Saturday after Christmas.
Better, though, was to follow at Flemington on New Year’s Day when the young rider recorded his first black-type success, partnering Outback Joe to victory in the Bagot Handicap, a Listed race over 2800m. Murphy had ridden a winner in the ‘bush’ at Echuca in the north of the state the previous day on the O’Brien-trained Letsgetsideways, but had an Englishman to thank for his first stakes race strike.
Outback Joe is trained at Flemington by Nigel Blackiston, who grew up in Newmarket and was apprenticed in the town in the early ’80s to Bruce Hobbs in Palace House. When Hobbs retired, Blackiston went to work for Tony Hide in Machell Place before emigrating to Australia. He worked for many years as a foreman in Bart Cummings’ Melbourne stable, assisting Cummings’ right-hand man Leon Corstens, who eventually set up his own stable and trained the 2010 Golden Jubilee Stakes winner Starspangledbanner to win two Group 1 races in Melbourne before the colt headed north to join Aidan O’Brien.
In time, Blackiston, too, branched out on his own, and is now well established as a successful trainer at Flemington, his best horse having been Littorio, a son of the former Jeremy Tree-trained Bellotto won who two Group One races before his retirement in 2011.
The Bagot Handicap is one of two time-honoured New Year’s Day feature races at Flemington, along with the Standish Handicap. Both races were first run in 1884 and are named after the men responsible for the Melbourne Cup (which was inaugurated in 1861). Frederick Standish was a steward of the Victoria Racing Club and the man who came up with the idea of the holding the Cup, while Robert Bagot was the Club’s first secretary and thus the man charged with organising its institution.
There was a further Melbourne Cup connection to this year’s Bagot Handicap as Outback Joe’s dam is Let’s Elope, who won both the Caulfield and Melbourne Cups in 1991. She was trained by Cummings and thus under Blackiston’s daily care at the time. She has proved a decent broodmare, her best offspring having been Ustinov, a son of Seeking The Gold who was conceived in America to southern hemisphere time but born in Australia, and who finished second to Lonhro in the Group 1 Caulfield Guineas in 2001. Let’s Elope is still alive, enjoying her retirement aged 26.
Outback Joe’s sire Elvstroem also enjoyed a red-letter day at Flemington, taking the Victoria Derby in 2003. The son of Danehill won the following year’s Caulfield Cup before setting off on his travels, winning the Dubai Duty Free on Dubai World Cup Night at Nad Al Sheba in 2005 before coming to England, where he finished fourth to Rakti in the Lockinge Stakes and third to Azamour in the Prince Of Wales’s Stakes.