For the average punter, it’s often a dream to just own a racehorse, let alone a winning one. For Manly local Jane Murphy and a group of friends, the dream became reality the day they decided to pool their money and purchase a horse. That horse would become Merlin Mustang.
You may not know Jane Murphy by name, but the blonde bombshell can often be spotted around the northern beaches, deep in concentration studying the form guide and/or sipping on a glass of champagne. Recently we caught up with ‘Champagne’ Jane to discuss her passion for racing and the thrills of racehorse ownership.
Fillies Form: When/How did your interest in horse racing start?
Jane Murphy: My great uncle, Percy Payne was a very good horse trainer. When I was a little girl he used to take me to his stables in Gundagai. In those days the horses had to travel by train to get to Randwick Racecourse for race day.
FF: Do you remember your first trip to the races?
JM: My first trip to the races was the Wagga Gold Cup 50 years ago. I still remember what I wore and I loved the races from that minute on.
FF: Do you like enjoy having a bet on the races?
JM: I love to have a bet! I am not a big punter, but I do like to bet everywhere. I always have the radio tuned into Sky Racing and never miss taking down Deane Lester’s tips on Saturday morning.
FF: You’re a part-owner in Merlin Mustang, tell us how the purchase came about?
JM: Merlin was purchased by my son, Michael Murphy, at the 2010 Inglis Classic yearling sale as lot 226 for $12,000. He is by Nothin’ Leica Dane out of the Octagonal mare, Petulant Moments. We have loved racing for a long time and always wanted to get a horse. When Michael purchased Merlin it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
FF: Where does the name Merlin Mustang originate from?
JM: One of the owners, Geoff Newbury, came up with the name Merlin Mustang. It refers to the Rolls Royce Merlin engine used in fighter planes in World War 2, therefore suggesting speed. The engine was used in the British Spitfires but also the American Mustang fighter planes which our horse refers too.
FF: You formed a syndicate to race Merlin, how did this come about?
JM: Our syndicate is mostly made up of friends and family. We have ex-North Sydney Bears football players; Rex Murphy (my husband), John Gray, Keith Harris, Barry Glasgow, Wayne Reading and Geoff Newbury.
Owners also include my daughters father-in-law, Tony White, Michel’s Patisserie founder Noel Carroll and owner of the Kirribilli supermarket George Kokkoris. Being in a syndicate makes for a very fun day at the races and to us it doesn’t matter if Merlin wins or loses, the champagne still flows.
FF: Who trains Merlin and which stables is he based at?
JM: After initially being trained by my son (Michael Murphy) in Gundagai until the end of his 3yo campaign, he is now with Mick Tubman at Kembla Grange. It made sense to move Merlin closer to the city with the all the success he was having in Sydney. Plus travelling up and down the Hume Highway for Merlin was becoming a little impractical
FF: Does Merlin have a regular jockey?
JM: Merlin has had a few different riders but Brenton Avdulla has had the most success with four wins, while Brendan Ward has won twice on him and Rodney Quinn saluting at his last start at Rosehill.
FF: What is Merlin’s ideal distance and racing style?
JM: Merlin has won from 1300m to 1800m and competed well in the group 1 Rosehill Guineas over 2000m, but I believe his best distance range is from 1400m to 1600m.While he has led to win races, his last start win showed he can come from off the pace as well.
FF: Can you tell us about some of the races he has won.
JM: Merlins best win was probably in an open handicap at Rosehill. Another good performance was in the Group 2 Villiers, he didn’t win but was only beaten 1 1/2 lengths. Merlin also competed very well In the Group 1 Rosehill Guineas after leading from the outside barrier.
FF: And for you, what has been his most exciting race/win?
JM: When Merlin won on the October long weekend last year. It was a photo finish and it took a long time for the judge to decide. It was very exciting.
FF: Do you get nervous before a race?
JM: Very nervous. I usually have a few champagnes and say a few Hail Marys to calm the nerves.
FF: Merlin continues to have great success in Sydney, winning 7 races and over $300,000 in prize money. When you purchased Merlin, did you ever expect him to be this good?
JM: We always hoped but never thought he would be as determined as he is. He has brought us a lot of joy and a few extra dollars to our pockets.
FF: When can we expect to see Merlin Mustang return to the track?
JM: Merlin will be racing this Saturday over 1350m at Rosehill and Jay Ford will take the ride. He’s currently $8.50 fixed, so he will get my usual $2 eachway and maybe a bit more.
FF: Apart from the excitement of winning a race, what else do you enjoy about owning a horse?
JM: Before I owned a horse I used to look at people in the Winners Bar and think, wouldn’t that be nice. Now I get to enjoy it with some of my closest friends. I love it!!
FF: The highs are great when your horse wins, but do you experience low’s as a horse owner?
JM: Unfortunately yes. Once Merlin threw the jockey before the race and injured himself. A truck drove past near the starting gate and frightened the horse. Merlin whipped around and threw the female jockey to the ground. They had to capture him and it was very upsetting. We were very worried about the horse and the jockey.
FF: What do you love about the races?
JM: I love the anticipation that builds when you are in the mounting yard. When the trainer gives the final instructions and gives the jockey a leg-up onto his horse. I love getting dressed up and the excitement of the crowd. And if you get a few winners it always helps. We were also lucky enough to go to Melbourne and watch Black Caviar race at Mooney Valley which was such an unbelievable experience. To me it doesn’t matter if you’re in the city or the country, a day at the races is the best fun you can have.