Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 25 February 2018

Johnny Murtagh: Aga Khan split was a “horrible moment”

Johnny Murtagh
Johnny Murtagh

Johnny Murtagh has described his abrupt split with owner the Aga Khan last season as "a horrible moment" in his career.

Murtagh was retained rider for the renowned owner until a shock split last August which was officially due to "differences between the two parties".

Murtagh, who was sidelined by injury at the time, owns stables on the Curragh from where Tommy Carmody is based, and the split came just days after Carmody's Ursa Major beat the Aga Khan-owned and John Oxx-trained Hartani in a Curragh Group Three.

The rider now acknowledges that result was the root of the discord.

"John Oxx's (Hartani) was hot favourite and ours was 7 or 8-1. I thought he might run a place and it just happened that Ursa Major came and pipped the Aga Khan's horse," he told RTE 1's Ear To The Ground programme.

"What made it worse that I was there with him (Ursa Major).

"I was just delighted that the horse won. Beating John Oxx's (horse) wasn't great, but I was out injured at the time and my loyalty was not broken in any way.

"I felt that I wasn't doing anything wrong. I got a call straight away and I was asked to speak to the (stud) manager and that was it.

"I look back on it now from the other side of the fence and I suppose I was probably naive, but I was only trying to show everybody what I could do.

"I felt very sad. It was a horrible moment in my career, but when I look from the other side, maybe I should have seen it coming a bit earlier."

It was not the first time Murtagh had parted company with Oxx, as the rider had lost the job after battling alcohol problems in 1992.

Murtagh said: "Looking back I don't think I was as disciplined or I was as tuned in as I should have been.

"I was partying. When you are young and (have) no responsibilities you can do that sort of thing, but I was first jockey to John Oxx and we had 120 horses and 70 staff.

"There was a lot depending on me, but that was just going over my head.

"I used to have one night out a week, but then it progressed. I said I'd never go out the night before the races, but then I was going out a lot of the nights (before racing).

"And then coming back from the races you might stop off for the famous one (drink) and home for one in the morning.

"I thought I was secretly doing all this and that nobody knew and that John Oxx didn't know, or didn't care, once you turned up for work.

"It all just got caught up and got to my head in '92.

"I was supposed to be riding in Tralee on the Thursday and when I woke up, I was heavy - I'd been out the night before.

"I took the day off sick and met the lads and I was out again on Thursday and Friday.

"I didn't turn up for the races on the Saturday and I was kind of giving up by then.

"I said, 'This is not for me any more'. I thought it was over at that stage."

Murtagh later took the job as retained rider at Aidan O'Brien's powerful Ballydoyle yard, with the pairing yielding a host of big-race wins over a three-year period.

However, Murtagh resigned from that position at the end of the 2010 season and while no reason was given at the time, he explained he felt his relationship with O'Brien had come to a natural end.

Murtagh said :"I just felt it was right for me to move on.

"There were a few things that were changing.

"It was a hard decision at the time, but life is short and I like to be happy.

"I'm a great believer of being true to myself.

"I just got that feeling that maybe the best days are behind me."

Murtagh recently returned to action after recovering from a skiing injury and he is looking forward to the upcoming campaign, in roles in and out of the saddle.

Murtagh said: "I can see myself being busy, both as a jockey and assistant trainer to Mr Carmody.

"We've a lot of nice horses this year, and hopefully we can build on what we did last year.

"I think the best is yet to come."

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