Three-time champion jockey Oisin Murphy is relishing the prospect of riding over hurdles for the first time at Wincanton on Thursday.
While most of the elite Flat riders are either enjoying some rare downtime during the winter, or plying their trade on foreign soil, Murphy will take up a new challenge in Dorset.
The 28-year-old is fresh from enjoying another successful campaign on the level, which yielded six Group One winners, including Classic success aboard Mawj in the QIPCO 1000 Guineas at Newmarket in May.
His mount on Thursday is the Cian Collins-trained Irish raider Lets Do This, who will contest the Danny McNab Bookmakers “National Hunt” Novices’ Handicap Hurdle.
Explaining his decision, the Killarney-born jockey said: “My uncle is Jim Culloty, who rode winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Best Mate), Grand National (Bindaree) and Irish Grand National (Timbera) and also trained a winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (Lord Windermere).
“I worked with him in my teens, so jumps racing has always been part of my life and it has always been a burning ambition of mine to ride in a jumps race.
“I took out a jumps licence earlier in the year, as at one stage it looked like I might get a ride in the Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival.
“The programme of Flat racing means it is unlikely that I will be able to ride over hurdles often, but this opportunity arose as I know the trainer and owner of Lets Do This well. It is only a fairly low-grade handicap hurdle on Thursday, so it seemed like a good place to start.
“I have been schooling horses to prepare, though have not yet ridden Lets Do This.”
Murphy is set to be well supported at Wincanton, adding: “Jim might be coming along to see me ride and my friend Denis O’Regan, who recently retired, might be travelling over from Ireland.
“I’ll be walking the course when I get to Wincanton to see what it’s like and will try and seek the advice of the jump jockeys riding there. I am really looking forward to the challenge.”
Several leading Flat jockeys have enjoyed success under both codes, perhaps most notably the late, great Lester Piggott, who partnered 20 winners over hurdles, including the 1954 Triumph Hurdle hero Prince Charlemagne.
More recently, the likes of Richard Hughes, Jamie Spencer and Tom Queally have combined the two disciplines and Murphy hopes to add his name to the list.
He said: “It would be an amazing feeling to get a winner over jumps and I’m not looking beyond Thursday at the moment – I just hope I don’t embarrass myself!”