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Murtagh will recall vintage year as champ

Being crowned champion jockey in Ireland for the first time in over a decade will perhaps be the abiding memory Johnny Murtagh takes from 2009.

But there are many others, not least partnering Yeats to an unprecedented fourth Gold Cup at Royal Ascot, where he again took top riding honours -- despite suspension ruling him out of the last two days.

Classic success also came his way, with the promise of more to come next year as Ballydoyle already house the Epsom Derby favourite in the unbeaten St Nicholas Abbey.

Murtagh reflected: "It was great being champion. It's been a long time and a lot of hard work.

"You know Ballydoyle will be very on target for the big races and meetings. My agent (Eddie Byrne) is very good. He tries to get me on the favourite or second favourite in every race."

The Curragh in May proved a happy hunting ground, with Murtagh claiming the Irish 2000 Guineas on Mastercraftsman for Aidan O'Brien and following up 24 hours later in the fillies' version on Again, running in the Coolmore colours but trained by David Wachman.


Murtagh added: "I suppose Irish Guineas weekend has to be one of my highlights of the season. It was the first time I had won the Irish 1,000. That was a bit special. Yeats winning his fourth Gold Cup was the highlight of Royal Ascot."

Rip Van Winkle carried Murtagh's hopes in a number of big races and while Sea The Stars was a stumbling block in most of them, the absence of John Oxx's superstar from the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood saw the pair bag the big one his rider had been adamant he would.

'The Rip' is set to stay in training next year and the search is already on for another Sea The Stars. Many a good judge thinks we may have already seen him in St Nicholas Abbey, the dazzling winner of the Racing Post Trophy.

Murtagh is in no doubt he is a colt of real substance. He said: "St Nicholas Abbey is very exciting. Sometimes people are thinking you are talking a bit through your pocket, but I think the horse showed everyone in Doncaster what he is capable of doing.

"Having his third race he went to a Group One. The best horses in England were there and he absolutely spread-eagled a top-class field. He would be the one I am most looking forward to next year.

"Overall I think our two-year-olds are very strong this year and hopefully with progress and a good winter they can be racing in the top races next year. Aidan knows how to improve those two-year-olds and we are looking forward to a very good year.

"Mastercraftsman and Yeats retired to stud, so we will miss those two. But we have got Rip Van Winkle and Fame And Glory."