Wednesday 21 February 2018

Dundalk double puts Murtagh in driving seat for jockeys' title

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

JOHNNY Murtagh's double at Dundalk last night has put him in pole position to claim the jockeys' crown going into the last day at Leopardstown tomorrow.

Murtagh's brace -- aboard Mr Red Clubs and Reggae Rock -- put him four clear of outgoing champion Pat Smullen before Dermot Weld's jockey hit back with a winner in the final race to reduce the gap to just three. Mathematically, Smullen, who has seven booked mounts at the Dublin venue, can still win, but it's going to be a tough ask now.

Nonetheless, three of his rides are fancied. In the day's featured November Handicap, the concluding race of the season, he has particular appeal on Hidden Universe.

Murtagh steers last year's victor What A Charm, also a winner at Cheltenham in March, for his 'guvnor' John Oxx. Burdened with top weight on the back of a decent career on the Flat which culminated in a recent Listed success at Listowel, What A Charm is badly in with Hidden Universe judging by their respective hurdles form.

Smullen's partner is a proven Grade One operator over jumps, and possesses a rating 11 pounds superior to What A Charm.

However, because he has had just two starts on the level, latterly winning at Navan, he isn't nearly as exposed at this game. Indeed, off 8st 13lbs here -- with 15lbs less to carry than What a Charm -- he appeals as something of a handicap snip. In the preceding handicap over 10 furlongs, Smullen rides the top weight in Unaccompanied.


Murtagh has a chance on Oxx's Swampfire, but it is the Triumph Hurdle runner-up that catches the eye. Successful in three of her last four Flat starts, Unaccompanied never rose a gallop off 95 on her sole handicap endeavour in the 2010 Cambridgeshire.

Off a mark of 98 now, on her favoured soft ground, she could still be well treated.

Coolnagree, the first leg of Smullen's treble at the track last week, is expected to follow up in the nursery, but Murtagh could get an early win on the board with Takar in the two-year-old colts and geldings' maiden.

Fourth on its Curragh debut, the Aga Khan's charge can improve, and the form of that race was done no harm when Frontier, which finished sixth, won at Navan next time.

There is also a decent jumps card at Cork tomorrow. In the Cork Grand National, the TJ Nagle-trained The Bishop Looney gets the nap vote, with little strength in depth evident in the three-and-a-half-mile handicap chase.

In the Grade Three novice chase, the Mouse Morris-trained First Lieutenant might gain revenge for a slim defeat to De Valira here recently, though Farrells Fancy is preferred over another Davy Russell mount in the equivalent hurdle.

Russell steers the easy Punchestown winner Sword Of Destiny for the Noel Meade yard in that, but the imposing Farrells Fancy, representing local handler Terence O'Brien, confirmed his potential by adding a hurdle success to his two point-to-point wins at Tipperary last month.

Irish Independent

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