Just two months after steering the Aga Khan's Valyra to the first Group One victory of their 20-month partnership at Chantilly, reigning champion Flat jockey Johnny Murtagh has been sacked as the owner's first-choice rider in Ireland.
The news comes as a cruel blow to Murtagh at a time when he is laid up with a facial injury that he sustained in a fall at the Curragh three weeks ago, effectively forcing him to prematurely relinquish his rider's crown to teenage riding sensation Joseph O'Brien.
Less than two years ago, Aidan O'Brien's increasing tendency to book his son ahead of Murtagh was widely believed to have prompted the 42-year-old, five-time champion to walk away from the No 1 position at Ballydoyle, and the loss of the Aga Khan's 40-strong Irish string now terminates any small hope that he might have had of reeling in a deficit that stands at 20.
Neither Murtagh nor the Aga Khan's Irish manager Pat Downes were willing to elaborate on the reason for the split yesterday, other than Downes citing "differences between the parties".
However, it is thought that Murtagh's close ties with Tommy Carmody's burgeoning yard on the Curragh -- which the jockey owns -- is the root of the shock division.