Tuesday 19 November 2019

Lincoln win proves Murtagh still top dog

Johnny Murtagh celebrates his Lincoln win on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images
Johnny Murtagh celebrates his Lincoln win on Saturday. Photo: Getty Images


Sweet Lightning wasn't a strong fancy for the Lincoln on Saturday, but his win provided a timely reminder of Johnny Murtagh's capacity to routinely deliver on the days that matter most.

It was also a fine example of Murtagh's enduring ability to not be left with egg on his face.

Six months after the rider departed Ballydoyle, the feeling that he came out of the divorce with his head held high remains strong. Aidan O'Brien may have got the house, but it may yet prove a lonely place without his former sidekick.

Ever since his early days with John Oxx, Murtagh has displayed an uncanny tendency to dust himself off after a split. Granted, there was a time when his career lacked a sense of stability, but no more. These days he is the master of his profession.

Watching him in the Lincoln, you were reminded of Ruby Walsh at his best at Cheltenham. Murtagh let the minions fight out their phony race to the furlong pole, before swooping with such a well-timed run that the chance of anything being able to mount a response was negligible.

In this case, Jamie Spencer played the hare on Brae Hill, but it has to be someone. Murtagh is rarely the one who finds himself in such a vulnerable position.

That is what sets riders such as Murtagh and Walsh apart. It is not simply their riding talent that separates them from the mob, it is that cool-headed cognisance of how a race is unfolding.

As ever, when he has found himself needing to make a fresh start, Murtagh will not be short of ammunition on either side of the water this season, though obviously he isn't going to have the sheer depth of armoury he would have had at Ballydoyle.

Maybe O'Brien will come cap in hand for his services on the big days, but Murtagh sat in the weigh-room as St Nicholas Abbey flopped on his reappearance at The Curragh yesterday, so that looks unlikely. Either way, don't expect Murtagh to be the one looking back in regret.

Irish Independent

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