With all eyes fixed firmly on next month's Cheltenham Festival, Johnny Murtagh has stunned the racing world by announcing his decision to retire from race-riding with immediate effect.
One of the most decorated Flat jockeys of his generation and second only to the totemic Mick Kinane in terms of big-race success on the international stage for an Irish-based rider, the brilliant 43-year-old says that he wants to focus his full attention on his burgeoning career as a trainer.
It was the same full-blooded devotion to that fledgling vocation that cost him his job as the Aga Khan's retained rider in 2012, but few envisaged that one of this country's finest practitioners would bring the curtain down on his original profession so soon after his sensational renaissance last season.
However, the Navan native, who rode around 1,900 winners worldwide, explained: "The training side of things is getting bigger and I wasn't happy giving the riding 50pc and the training 50pc. It's the right time to call it a day and put everything into the training.
"We have 45 horses, including 20 two-year-olds and a few new owners. I have the same expectations as when I was riding – the standards are still the same. If we get a bit of luck and a good horse comes along, we'll get there."
Murtagh has been at the top of the riding profession for over 20 years. A keen amateur boxer in his youth, he partnered his first winner for John Oxx on Chicago Style at Limerick in 1987 and was champion apprentice in '88. Soon after, he became Oxx's stable jockey, and they enjoyed an array of prestigious victories during two stints together either side of his lucrative Ballydoyle tenure.
"I was very lucky to ride for some great people," Murtagh said of his employers. "I got along with them all and still do. It has been brilliant. When you are riding you can take all the big winners for granted, but when you sit back and think about it, I've been very lucky. I've been all over the world riding, I've met some lovely people and it has been a great experience.
"I didn't ride a horse until I was 15 and it has been fantastic, but it's now time to move on to the next chapter in my life."
His first Group One win came courtesy of the Aga Khan's Manntari in the 1993 National Stakes at the Curragh, and he and Oxx fashioned an unforgettable yield with Ridgewood Pearl in 1995, culminating in a sensational coup in the Breeders' Cup Mile at Belmont Park in New York.
In 2000, the Murtagh-Oxx-Aga Khan axis excelled with Sinndar. An exceptional colt, Sinndar carried Murtagh to a spectacular treble in the Epsom and Irish Derbies and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, and the same firm also scaled the heights with Alamshar in 2003.
Increasingly, Murtagh became a go-to man for leading British trainers like Michael Stoute, Mark Johnston, John Dunlop and Michael Bell, who supplied him with his third Derby win on Motivator in 2005. A vital cog in domestic operations, like those of Eddie Lynam, Mick Halford and Ger Lyons, he also proved a dab hand during a brief stint riding over hurdles in 2005-06, agonisingly denied a Cheltenham winner when Halford's Golden Cross fell a head short in the World Hurdle.
Aidan O'Brien, who described him yesterday as a "wonderful rider," had also by now identified his propensity to deliver when it mattered most and frequently utilised his services as a super-sub, resulting in a stunning 2002 Classic double via Rock Of Gibraltar's last-gasp 2,000 Guineas triumph and High Chaparral's Derby conquest of Hawk Wing.
After Kieren Fallon was handed an 18-month ban for testing positive for cocaine, O'Brien eventually appointed Murtagh stable jockey at Ballydoyle in 2008. The partnership enjoyed extraordinary success with stars like Henrythenavigator, Mastercraftsman, Star- spangledbanner, St Nicholas Abbey and the four-time Gold Cup winner Yeats.
Murtagh shocked many when he walked away from the blue-chip job in 2010, his departure hastened by the rise of the trainer's talented son Joseph. However, he exited having delivered 48 Group One winners for the Tipperary operation, a figure topped only by Kinane.
A five-time champion who claimed his last title the year after that split, Murtagh was promptly re-signed by the Aga Khan. In August 2012, he was sensationally sacked after a conflict of interest emerged between the Aga Khan and his own rapidly evolving Pollardstown stable on the Curragh. At the time, Tommy Carmody held the licence before Murtagh formally took over last May.
For all that such a development signalled the extent of his ambitious intent at the helm of a stable that was increasingly becoming the destination of choice for the stock of Eddie Stobart CEO Andrew Tinkler, it didn't stop him from taking Royal Ascot by storm in June.
An inspired Murtagh brought Eddie Lynam's Sole Power with a storming late surge to claim the King's Stand Stakes over five furlongs and initiate an opening-day brace, before a final tally of four winners saw him crowned leading rider at Flat racing's showpiece meeting for an incredible fifth time.
He returned to Ascot to plunder a fourth King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes triumph aboard the German-based Novellist in July, having claimed a sixth Irish Oaks on Alain de Royer-Dupre's Chicquita in between.
Murtagh won each of the five Irish Classics at least once and rode over 100 Group One winners, the last of which was the Tom Hogan-trained Gordon Lord Byron in Haydock's Sprint Cup in September.
Fittingly, he returned to his beloved Ascot in October to plunder a thrilling last-gasp victory in the Long Distance Cup aboard Royal Diamond, which he also trained. Yet another memorable chapter in a spellbinding year, that Group Three was his first cross-channel success in his new dual role. Significantly, it was one that got a special mention from Murtagh when he was asked about his best days in the saddle.
"It would be unfair to pick out one, but there were a number of special days," he conceded. "My first Derby win aboard Sinndar was obviously huge and then Yeats was an incredible horse to be associated with. I suppose winning on Sole Power in the King's Stand last year was massive for me as well. Just the way the race went and getting up on the line – you know when you get it right. Riding and training Royal Diamond to win on Champions Day last year at Ascot – that was something very special as well."