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Murtagh sets his training targets

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ON the outskirts of the Curragh, Johnny Murtagh's yard has quickly swollen to become home to one of the country's rising training establishments, where 40 horses are currently in training.

Up until last week, Murtagh was officially just the landlord and Tommy Carmody the licence holder, but never has anyone in the Murtagh/Carmody-and-owner-Andrew Tinkler axis denied the hands-on involvement of Murtagh in the training side of things.

It was his involvement with Carmody and Tinkler that cut short his ties with the Aga Khan last year, something Murtagh since described as "a horrible moment" in his career.

But the Meath native is not one to dwell and while that was a regrettable chapter, his positive approach since has seen him take out a training licence in his own right and tomorrow afternoon at the Curragh, John Patrick Murtagh will appear in the trainer column of the racecard for the very first time.

The handover from Carmody came just in time for Murtagh to be responsible for leading 2000 Guineas hope Fort Knox, who will also have a different owner since he won a Leopardstown Guineas trial, with Sheikh Mohammed (pictured) so impressed with that performance, he opted to purchase the Dubawi colt.

 

HOPEFUL

 

MURTAGH TOLD THE HERALD YESTERDAY: "FORT KNOX IS IN GREAT FORM AND HAS HAD A SMOOTH PASSAGE SINCE LEOPARDSTOWN, SO I'M VERY HAPPY WITH HIM AND VERY HOPEFUL OF A BIG RUN.

"It is great that Sheikh Mohammed left the horse with us because the plan has always been the Irish Guineas and for such a high-profile owner to be in our yard is a huge compliment."

Andrew Tinkler has been the catalyst to Murtagh's rapid rise up the training ranks and having initially sent over a handful of horses, he is now responsible for the vast majority of the 40 who are stabled in what is effectively Murtagh's back garden.

Fort Knox's run in Leopardstown was his first in Ireland and Murtagh said: "I saw him win his maiden in Newbury and he won like a nice horse and he did well at Leopardstown because it was a bad day with a big wind and heavy ground. I'll be hoping that better ground will be more in his favour."

Of course, Curragh manager Paul Hensey will be the first to tell you how happy he is to see proper good, good-to-firm ground back at the Curragh for a big race day as it has been something of a rare sight in recent years. Ireland's newest trainer is also pleased that the rain has stayed away.

"We are really looking forward to having a bit of nice ground, we think Fort Knox will really appreciate having a bit of good ground."

Murtagh concedes that there is little difference between this week and last week and the change of the licence holder, but added: "We are just looking forward to getting down to it now. We have some really nice horses and hopefully they will be able to reach their true potential."

Having been number one jockey at Ballydoyle during one of their best periods, Johnny Murtagh is no stranger to success and has for many years been regarded as a big-name jockey. In speaking to The Herald, he was clear that he wants to convert that to his career as a trainer also.

"The target for me is that I want to be a top trainer training for all the top owners and hopefully this year, the short-term plan is to win another Group One, but my ultimate goal is that I want to be champion trainer.

"I'm just hoping that we can pick up some more nice horses for some more big owners and kick on from there. Andrew has been a great support for us and he has 40 horses here now and it's a huge investment on his part and I just want to make sure he gets enjoyment out of it and then payback at the end of the day."

With Sheikh Mohammed purchasing Fort Knox, Murtagh's main patron was still keen to have a runner in the race and on Monday the Tinkler-owned Ask Dad was supplemented for the Guineas which sums up his sporting nature, according to Murtagh.

 

LUCKY

"Andrew was keen to have a runner in the race as it is a race he has been lucky in. Dubawi Gold was second a couple of years ago and Foxtrot Romeo was second last year. He knows Ask Dad is an outside chance, but his attitude is that if you are not in you can't win. I think he may have needed the race at Naas and he has come out of it well."

Looking ahead to Fort Knox tomorrow, Murtagh joked: "I can't give out to the jockey anyway. Listen, I will do the best I can and I know what it takes to get them there on the big day. We done it last year (Royal Diamond won Irish St Leger), I have been around those top trainers, I know what happens, I know what has to be done. I suppose Saturday morning might be a bit nerve-wracking, but I think it'll be exciting."

For more than two decades, Johnny Murtagh has been one of the leading big-race jockeys and tomorrow afternoon he'll be looking to confirm he is still that, but now also one of the leading trainers also. Don't rule it out.


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