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Riding the Storm by Timmy Murphy

Release date: 09th February, 2007
Publisher: Highdown

List Price: £18.99
Our Price: £12.53
You Save: £6.46 (34%)
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Riding the Storm
Timmy Murphy with Donn McClean
Highdown Publishing price: £12.53, saving 34% on rrp

There's a surprisingly long list of sporting stars who have been forced to spend time in prison, their list of misdemeanours as varied as the characters themselves. Muhammad Ali went to jail rather than fight in Vietnam; Tony Kay and David 'Bronco' Layne spent time inside following a corruption investigation into football betting during the sixties, while more recently, high-profile stars such as George Best and Tony Adams ended up doing porridge.

Lester Piggott was famously jailed for deliberately avoiding tax and many other jockeys since have been tarred with a brush of suspicion almost since the day they first climbed into the saddle. Such has been the phenomenal growth in the popularity of betting exchanges - and, as a consequence, the scale of reward to be made from them - that a small number of jockeys have been persuaded to take it easy with their mounts in the knowledge that their horses would be backed to lose.

Apart from boxers and footballers, however, athletes, darts players, cricketers and racehorse jockeys have, at various points, managed to fall foul of the law and several, most notably Tony Adams, have subsequently written forcefully and lucidly about their rocky road to redemption.

While Adams' tale was searingly honest, few have been as compelling as Timmy Murphy's in his autobiography Riding the Storm. It is rare to encounter a sports book that grabs the attention as grippingly as Murphy's, most especially when he describes the aftermath of a first class trip to Japan to ride in the world's richest steeplechase, the Nakayama Grand Jump, worth more than £400,000 to the winner.

Many readers will recall what the fallout from the journey was, but reading Murphy's first-hand account, ably delivered by Donn McClean, chief feature writer for The Irish Field , it becomes possible to get a sense of how Murphy felt when he realised two things: first, that he was an alcoholic and second, he was going to prison.

Murphy deals with his alcoholism prior to his trial, but the moment at which he is sentenced, the reader can almost hear his stomach doing summersaults: "the gavel drops and that's it," he says, "no hugs and kissesÖno tears, no meaningful glances, nothing like you see on television. You're going to prison and you're going to prison now. More Monopoly than LA Law."

Moreover, because his case was heard at Isleworth Crown Court, Murphy ends up being transported not to "Fluffy Bunny Open Prison" but to Wormwood Scrubs, a place he describes, with unintentional understatement, as being "a rough prison."

How could it all have gone so wrong for Timmy Murphy, a hugely talented rider renowned for his innate sense of balance, who less than a decade earlier had ridden his first point-to-point winner (Gayloire) at the Kilmuckridge course in Ireland?

What makes this book so compelling is Murphy's candidness; he pulls no punches in telling his tale how it is. Underpinning the inevitable glamour that comes from winning the Hennessy Gold Cup, the Arkle Trophy and the Irish Grand National is a story of hard work and even harder celebrations that eventually ran out of control.

Fortunately, however, Murphy's account is ultimately an uplifting one. His embarrassment at his actions and subsequent remorse are genuine. Unlike several sportsmen who leave prison (some might say a little too early), the reader is left with the feeling that Murphy celebrates his release date (22nd October) each year, only with nothing stronger than an orange juice.

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