Saturday 20 January 2018

Murtagh a hard act to follow at Ballydoyle

Aidan O'Brien and Johnny Murtagh discussing tactics in happier times - the next Ballydoyle No 1 has a tough act to follow. Photo: PA
Aidan O'Brien and Johnny Murtagh discussing tactics in happier times - the next Ballydoyle No 1 has a tough act to follow. Photo: PA

Damien McElroy

Despite intense speculation and fluctuating markets with the bookmakers, the identity of a successor to Johnny Murtagh as next season's retained rider on behalf of the Coolmore partners at Ballydoyle remains shrouded in mystery.

Whoever takes the leading role with Aidan O'Brien will have a hard enough act to follow as 40-year-old Murtagh, who announced his decision not to renew his contract on Monday, racked up 38 Group One successes around the world for Ballydoyle since joining them in 2008.

Belgian-born Christophe Soumillon and English-based Kieren Fallon -- whom Murtagh succeeded in the lucrative post for the 2008 campaign -- were backed to land the plum job yesterday following the statement that Pat Smullen (33) would not be ending his lengthy association with Dermot Weld.

"I've got a very good job and I ride for some very good owners so I'm happy where I am," said Smullen. "I'm staying with Dermot and very happy to do so. He's a world-class trainer and he's got some great owners."


Former French champion Soumillon, currently retained there by the Wildenstein family and used in the past by O'Brien, was the favourite last night with several major bookmakers who have Fallon next best in the succession stakes.

Colm O'Donoghue, often to the fore as Murtagh's understudy this year, is a 5/1 chance for in-house promotion. The Cork native is both familiar and comfortable with O'Brien's priorities and methods, and has won his opportunities by diligence at Ballydoyle and good judgment on the racecourse.

While O'Donoghue admittedly lacks experience in the international crucibles, he has won a Classic round the notoriously difficult track at Longchamp and last month produced a top-class ride to steal the Canadian International on Joshua Tree from under the noses of his rivals.

Former British title-holder Ryan Moore is reported to have turned down a move to the Irish scene just a few weeks ago and among the outsiders are Tipperary native Jamie Spencer -- British champion jockey in 2005 and joint champion alongside Seb Sanders two years later -- as well as Aidan's teenage son Joseph, who resumes his quest for the apprentice title here later this month.

A further layer of speculation centred yesterday around support from what one bookmaker described as an informed source on French-born Julien Leparoux (12/1) who was America's Eclipse award-winning champion apprentice, following in the footsteos of the likes of Steve Cauthen and Cash Asmussen.

All this suggests that there won't be any rush by Coolmore boss John Magnier and his English associates Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith to appoint a fourth stable jockey at the world-famous Ballydoyle centre of excellence in just six years.

Indeed, there will be a temptation not to bring in a new rider at all and instead consider leaving the status quo at Ballydoyle -- minus the hugely popular Murtagh of course -- with O'Donoghue, supersub Seamus Heffernan and rising star O'Brien sharing the rides on the home front and opting for the best available elsewhere.

Where the English Classics and other flagship Group One races are concerned, Fallon, Spencer and Moore in particular could be just a telephone call away.

Next Retained Ballydoyle Stable Jockey -- William Hill bet: 15/8 Christophe Soumillon, 9/2 Kieren Fallon, 5/1 Colm O'Donoghue, 8/1 Fran Berry, Olivier Peslier, Richard Hughes, Ryan Moore, 10/1 William Buick, 12/1 Declan McDonogh, Jamie Spencer, Julien Leparoux, Steven Arnold, 14/1 Joseph O'Brien, Seamus Heffernan, Tom Queally, 16/1bar

Irish Independent

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