Last spring, Conor Murphy was a hired hand who spent his days galloping racehorses, combing knotted manes and shoveling manure in a stable in Berkshire, England.
Murphy, 29, knew his horses well. He was able to tell which ones were on their toes. He also knew his way around a betting window. On a hunch, he bet $75 on five of his favorites. It was the sort of desperate stab that only a man who loves horses would make.
But he won — big. His $75 bet paid more than $1.5 million, enough for him to put down the shovel and become his own boss.
Now he lives in Kentucky, training horses for some of the most prominent figures in racing. On Saturday, he will be at the Kentucky Derby, rooting for Lines of Battle, a horse owned by one of his clients.
“Pure luck,” Murphy said of his life-changing wager. His big bet has become the stuff of lore for gamblers from the backsides of American racetracks to the training yards of England and Ireland.
Murphy said he does not bet often but that he can recognize opportunity when it comes. In December 2011, he thought that five horses he had been working with were training well. Each was slated to run at the Cheltenham Festival. He played a five-horse “accumulator” through his online betting account. Then he forgot about it.
The odds at the time of the bet were long on each horse: Sprinter Sacre (10-1), Simonsig (14-1), Bobs Worth (10-1), Finian’s Rainbow (8-1) and Riverside Theatre (9-1). That all five would win was, well, nearly impossible — about “163,350-to-1,” said a spokesman for Paddy Power, an Irish bookmaking firm. They all won, and Murphy’s life changed.
Funny, he’s still doing the same work, but for himself,
“This is mine — my business and my dream,” he said. “I have worked for this since I was a lad.”
• Black Onyx was a late scratch for the Kentucky Derby because of a chip in his left ankle, leaving 19 horses to vie for the roses. The scratch occurred Friday after early wagering had opened, so Black Onyx’s No. 1 post position will be left empty on Saturday. The remaining horses will stay in their original starting gate positions.
• Long shot Princess of Sylmar rallied in the stretch to win the $1 million Kentucky Oaks on Friday at Churchill Downs. She was one of four fillies trained by Todd Pletcher in the Grade 1 race, a 38-1 shot upstaging 3-2 favorite Dreaming of Julia. Princess of Sylmar paid $79.60, $29.40 and $14. Beholder returned $9 and $5.60, and Unlimited Budget, another Pletcher entry, paid $3.80 to show.