Wednesday 18 October 2017

Magnificent Murtagh rises to occasion in in Royal style

Thomas Chippendale, under Johnny Murtagh, captures the Hardwicke Stakes during day five of the Royal Ascot meeting on Saturday – the horse dramatically dropped dead moments after crossing the finishing line
Thomas Chippendale, under Johnny Murtagh, captures the Hardwicke Stakes during day five of the Royal Ascot meeting on Saturday – the horse dramatically dropped dead moments after crossing the finishing line
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

A Royal Ascot that threw up an array of special moments finished on Saturday without any of the nine Irish-trained runners claiming the win needed to stretch the tally to a record nine for the week.

The raiders plundered the first four races of the week in sensational style on Tuesday, leaving them 50pc of the way to the previous best of eight, with 86.6pc of the races still up for grabs.

At that stage, double figures looked distinctly possible, but in the end, it just wasn't to be. Still, that takes nothing away from a fantastic royal meeting for the Irish contingent.

Jim Bolger's remarkable feat to get Dawn Approach primed for that epic St James's Palace Stakes triumph so soon after his Epsom Derby capitulation was an undoubted highlight and Declaration Of War was also unrecognisable from his tame Lockinge defeat. Aidan O'Brien worked magic to turn him inside out for the Queen Anne, before unleashing another superstar in the Seamie Heffernan-ridden War Command.

EXCELLED

Leading Light's brave triumph for Joseph O'Brien ensured the Ballydoyle maestro claimed his fifth trainers' award, as Johnny Murtagh excelled on a select book for his fifth jockeys' crown with four wins.

Evidently, Murtagh's fledgling Curragh training venture has put many of his new peers off utilising his world-class riding services. Incredibly, he has ridden only six domestic winners all year, just one more than Frankie Dettori has done since his recent return from ignominy.

Prior to Ascot, Dettori was the centre of attention, but it was Murtagh who reminded everyone of exactly how focused and driven he remains.

On Thursday, he came agonisingly close to achieving Gold Cup glory on Willie Mullins' Simenon. As happened with Murtagh's Gold Cup mount Saddler's Rock 12 months ago, Simenon raced keenly off a steady early pace. Whether he would have won if he settled sooner is hard to say, but he was only narrowly beaten by Estimate.

Murtagh, whose final winner, the Lady Cecil-trained Thomas Chippendale, dramatically dropped dead after crossing the line on Saturday, was exquisite on Sole Power in the King's Stand as Eddie Lynam enjoyed a fully deserved second Group One success. Wayne Lordan then re-affirmed his status as one of the most dependable names in the business with an unflustered turn on Duntle for David Wachman on Wednesday.

A day later, Billy Lee, Lordan's deputy at Wachman's and Tommy Stack's, posted a typically determined victory on Roca Tumu in the Britannia. Like Lee and Lynam, Roca Tumu's trainer Joanna Morgan was enjoying a debut win at the Berkshire festival.

As is the case with so many handlers that frequently secured double-figure tallies during the boom, Morgan's three home turf winners since March are an indication of just how much life has changed for some stables. For her to win with a home-bred on such a grand stage was a tremendous boon, not to mention a reminder of her capabilities.

There were disappointments as well. Like Simenon – now bound for a bold Melbourne Cup foray in November – Viztoria and Gordon Lord Byron emerged with plenty credit despite their respective defeats. In short, the ground was a shade quick for both.

While Battle Of Marengo also ran well in defeat, Magician flopped, as Big Break likewise failed to reproduce the promise of her recent Curragh run.

Camelot was another that didn't step up to the mark, though that was in keeping with everything we knew about him. He will always be a triple Classic winner, but not even Aidan O'Brien can turn water into wine.

IRISH DERBY FULL OF RARE INTRIGUE

In five days' time, the Curragh could host a Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby that might justifiably be described as monumentally rare in its intrigue.

Coolmore's recent domination of the 12-furlong Classic has rendered it obsolete as a competitive or relevant Group One, with Grey Swallow's 2004 triumph the last to offer some variety.

Aidan O'Brien tended to fully flex the might of Ballydoyle's muscles in the race – to the point that it hardly even figured on other trainers' radars.

However, after running Camelot in it last year when the safest choice would have been to swerve the bottomless ground, John Magnier emphasised that they were anxious to support the race.

This time, as O'Brien bids for an eighth win in a row, they have gone a step further, announcing soon after Epsom that the Derby hero Ruler Of The World would likely be the elite stable's solitary representative.

A commendable gesture that was designed to encourage 'outside' interest, it would signify a shift of enormous proportions if that is what transpires. Ahead of today's forfeit stage, O'Brien is still responsible for 25 of the 40 current entries.

David Wachman's Michael O'Flynn-owned Epsom third Galileo Rock remains a possible starter, while Patrick Prendergast's Sugar Boy, which had Galileo Rock and Epsom runner-up Libertarian behind when landing the Sandown Classic trial, is also expected to make its first start since then. The Elaine Burke-trained Libertarian, recently purchased by Sheikh Mohammed, is due to be supplemented at a cost of €80,000.

If Libertarian runs, he will join Dawn Approach as one of only two horses to sport Godolphin blue in these parts for a trainer other than Saeed Bin Suroor or Mahmood Al Zarooni. He is, due to switch to an established Godolphin stable, prompting the more mischievous-minded to suggest that Jim Bolger might have a new addition.

POWER TRIUMPHS AT HICKSTEAD

Robbie Power, who rode Silver Birch to Grand National glory in 2007, added a new feather to his cap by winning show jumping's Speed Derby at Hickstead.

A son of Irish show jumping legend Capt Con Power, Robbie won a silver medal at the European Young Rider Championships and has continued to show jump when the racing schedule allows. Saturday's win on Doonaveeragh O One was a career-high in that sphere, though the rider has no plans to change discipline.

NOVELLIST RISES ABOVE CIRRUS

Cirrus Des Aigles' record of never having won first time out continued in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and could finish only fifth behind the Ryan Moore-ridden winner Novellist.

Trained by Andrea Wohler, Novellist added to his Group One triumph in Italy last autumn by striding clear of the 2011 Melbourne Cup hero Dunaden. He will now be aimed at next month's King George VI Stakes.

Numbers game

3 Number of Flat jockeys stood down after Limerick on Friday. Colm O'Donoghue, will be out for at least three weeks after breaking his collarbone when Diamond Lucy slipped up. Fergal Lynch faces a similar lay-off, having also fractured a collarbone and injured a thumb. Sam James, whose mount Silldora brought down Beat The Bell, is stood down for six days with concussion.

Tweet of the week

@ITQueally

I wonder would Jamesie tog out?

– Pat Flynn's Fenor-born apprentice Ian Queally calls for desperate measures as Clare's fate becomes evident in the Munster hurling semi-final against Cork.

Irish Independent

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