A few hundred yards away, trucks carrying workers zig-zagged their way in and around the Springdale Race Course in final preparation for Saturday’s 83rd running of the Carolina Cup. Tucked away in a barn located behind the National Steeplechase Museum, Brian Murphy stands atop the straw in a stall as he brushes down one of his horses with the only sound here being that of a few chirping birds on a relaxed Monday morning.
For the retired jumper rider-turned trainer, the hustle and bustle associated with putting on a race to be attended by some 40,000 or so race patrons at his doorstep may as well be a world away -- somewhere like his native Ireland -- as he quietly goes about his daily routine.
The 33-year-old native of County Cork is in his third year as a trainer but has been in this country for 10 years, spending most of those working in stables in Kentucky after his weight got the better of him and put an end to his career of riding jumpers in Ireland and England.
"I was breaking horses and stuff like that. Then, I started training a few of my own which led to my getting a few jumpers," Murphy said of his start in his profession. "We actually got a horse, Martini Brother, who was the first one. He was a horse which could not get going and they ended up giving him away. We ended up running him and then he went to Jonathan Sheppard. That started all this."
Martini Brother was a giveaway for trainer Nick Zito who gave up on the then-3-year-old after it finished seventh and fourth in his first two races on the flat. Murphy turned the son of A.P. Indy into a jumper, giving Martini Brother his first start a year and four days after that final race for Zito. Entered into a maiden special weight at the High Hope meet in Kentucky, Martini Brother did not finish the race.
Before the calendar year was out, Martini Brother had a sixth, two seconds and a third in his next four starts for owner-trainer Murphy. In 2013, the 5-year-old was sold to Bill Pape who turned Martini Brother over to trainer Jonathan Sheppard. In its first three starts for the Hall of Fame conditioner, Martini Brother never finished worse than first with the biggest prize of the three coming in the third win, the $75,000 Jonathan Kiser Novice Stakes at Saratoga.
Come Saturday, Murphy will saddle Welcome Home Farm’s Where’s the Beef in the $75,000 Carolina Cup feature for novice jumpers. Compared to the places Where’s the Beef has been and, his bevy of owners, Martini Brother’s travels were like a short trip to grandma’s house.
The 7-year-old Rockport Harbor gelding started his career on the flat track in Florida for trainer David Hawkes. After its fifth start, a fourth place finish in a maiden claimer at Gulfstream Park, Where’s the Beef was claimed for $35,000 and sent to the care of trainer Brad Cox. Less than three months later, following a sixth-place finish at Churchill Downs, Where’s the Beef was claimed again, this time for $20,000, before being sent to William Gowan.
In its fourth start for Gowan and its 14th trip into the starting gate, Where’s the Beef broke its maiden at Churchill Downs with Calvin Borel in the saddle on July 1, 2012. Where’s the Beef would make 13 starts for Gowan before being sent to trainer Patrick Dupuy at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans where he claimed for a $5,000 tag following a fifth-place finish in a race on Jan. 21, 2013. Putting in the claim that day was Andrew McKeever, who sold Where’s the Beef to Brian Murphy.
Murphy gave the newest addition to his small barn its first start over jumps with a second place finish in a maiden jump race in Atlanta on April 13, 2013. In its third jump start, Where’s the Beef coupled with Willie McCarthy to break its maiden at Foxfield in September of 2013. The duo then scored again, taking the $50,000 AFLAC Supreme Hurdle at Callaway Gardens in Georgia five weeks later.
By the time, the 2013 Colonial Cup rolled around on Nov. 23, Where’s the Beef was owned by Irv Naylor and trained by Kathy Neilson. Entered into that day’s $30,000 allowance sweepstakes, the horse was pulled up by James Slater, starting a string of three straight DNFs (did not finish) over fences. So, last June, Where’s the Beef was back on the flat and entered in a claiming race at Parx Racing where, following a 10th place finish, Where’s the Beef was purchased for a $25,000 tag by Mrs. Timothy Gardner who has since returned the gelding back to Murphy but not before Where’s the Beef took on another challenge before arriving at the grounds of Springdale in the winter.
In the time between its last race at Parx to its first start of 2015, a fourth-place finish in last Saturday’s flat race at the Aiken spring meet, Where’s the Beef took a turn at three-day eventing for rider Jennie Brannigan.
"He’s pretty intelligent. He picked it up very quick," Murphy said of Where’s the Beef’s getting back into the swing of things as a jumper. "As quick as he took to trying to do dressage and all that kind of things, he was as quick to get back to this. It’s good for a horse mentally, too, to have a different aspect of doing something else. The whole thing was good for him mentally."
Brannigan was in the saddle in Aiken for last Saturday’s 1 ¼-mile race in what was a tune-up for the start in Saturday’s 2 ¼-mile trek over jumps. When Where’s the Beef returned home to Camden, his trainer pronounced him fit and ready to go.
"He came back in great shape. The job was made very easy because of Jenny who had him in such good condition," he said of his post-race analysis while Where’s the Beef munched on a bale of hay at his stall, a few feet down from where Murphy was going about his work with another horse.
"It was good for him because he had not run in a while. Obviously, when they come off after a while, it’s good to get that (race environment) back into them. Jenny gave him a perfect ride down there. He came out of the race in very good shape."
Since Brannigan rode Where’s the Beef in three-day eventing competition, Murphy was more than happy to give her the ride in Aiken. Meanwhile, McCarthy won that race aboard Gun Point for trainer Julie Gomena.
It will be McCarthy, the reigning National Steeplechase Association riding champion, who will get the call for the Camden spring classic on the gray/roan gelding. It will be the second time they have been partnered since the AFLAC Supreme Hurdle Stakes triumph.
Not only is McCarthy, who like Murphy hails from Ireland, coming off a breakout year in this country, but he won last year’s Carolina Cup aboard Top Striker. And McCarthy’s having riding Where’s the Beef all winter in Camden provides Murphy with a strong comfort level. Suffice to say, the trainer will not have to give the jockey a long-winded pre-race talk in the paddock before Saturday’s ride.
"We both know the horse inside and outside," Murphy said of the bond between horse, trainer and rider. "It’s a team effort but Willie knows the horse well so I don’t have to tell him much. It will just be ‘Best of luck and come back safe.’ That’s it."
In winning the Carolina Cup last spring, McCarthy took Top Striker to the lead as the field headed for home and would go on to a cushy 11 ½-length win over the sweeping and relatively flat going at Springdale. That scenario may not be the case on Saturday given Where’s the Beef’s penchant for liking to be keen early in the race.
"He’s a front-running horse and he covers a lot of ground," Murphy said when asked of his horse’s favored style and racing surface. "That’s kind of his style. He has such a big stride on him that he’s better off using that and making plenty of use it. He stays all day. He’s better off being up there handy and enjoying himself.
"If he’s jumping good and traveling good, I’m sure that he’s happy on most tracks. I think the further he goes, the better he goes. I’m sure that, in time, he’ll go longer (distances.) This track won’t hinder him. It’s a good jumping track. That should suit him."
While more comfortable at or near the point, Murphy said that if one of the other four horses entered into the race wants to jump out to the early lead, that would be all right with him as it pertains to his horse, as well. "If some horse were to go up to the front, they can do that if they want, of course," he said in his polite tone. "Every horse that is running in this race deserves to be there, too. You just have to take your chance, just like everybody else."
Taking a chance is exactly what Brian Murphy has done in leaving the Emerald Isle to make a career and a name for himself on this side of the Atlantic. With four jumpers, at the moment, his is a growing stable. At the same time, however, he is able to compete against some of the top trainers in American steeplechasing. That, he said, would not be possible in Ireland or England.
"I like it better over here because if I was in England or Ireland, I wouldn’t be competitive. It’s too big a scene there," he said. "Over here, I can have a couple horses and run with the likes of Richard Valentine or, Jonathan Sheppard. If I was in England, I’m sure I wouldn’t get to do that, at all."