Murtagh on double to secure fifth title
Johnny Murtagh was crowned champion Flat jockey in Ireland for the fifth time with three races of the season remaining at Leopardstown yesterday.
Having started the day three clear of Pat Smullen, an early strike on his boss John Oxx's Takar in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF (C&G) Maiden helped cement Murtagh's grip on the trophy.
The 11/4 favourite could be spotted travelling strongly before the turn for home and devoured the ground in the straight to win as he liked by eight lengths from Place Vendome.
With Smullen unable to get his head in front in the following two races, Murtagh was confirmed as champion.
Speaking after Takar's success, Oxx said: "It's great for Johnny. He has been determined all year. It's been a big effort and he has shown enthusiasm and dedication, and is still one of the best in Europe."
The early victory meant that Smullen was facing an almost impossible task to overhaul his rival with just five races remaining. Smullen failed to strike on Dermot Weld's Northern Rocked in the Knockaire Stakes, meaning he had to win all four remaining races just to tie with Murtagh.
Weld was still successful in the Listed contest as the Pat Shanahan-ridden Enchanted Evening (16/1) sprung a surprise to beat Shirley Blake by a length and a quarter.
Any faint hopes Smullen had of bridging the gap were dashed in the nursery as he and Coolnagree were mowed down late by Backbench Blues.
The former looked like collecting the spoils inside the last of the seven furlongs, but Jessica Harrington's 5/2 favourite came from a mile back to score by a neck under a fine ride from Shane Foley -- confirming Murtagh as champion.
Murtagh later doubled up on Oxx's Call To Battle (7/2) in the Eyrefield Stakes in which the Curragh maiden winner travelled nicely and saw out the nine-furlong trip in determined style.
Alla Speranza, the only filly in the field, was giving it everything as the line approached but had to make do with a half-length second.
"I'm delighted, he won well. He stays well and gets through that ground. He is well named as he finds a bit extra," Oxx said. "He will be a nice horse over a distance next year. He is from a good family and could be a St Leger horse. It remains to be seen how he will handle good ground."
Smullen gained some compensation by guiding Hidden Universe to victory in the closing Leopardstown November Handicap.
Weld's smart hurdler warmed up for this by winning over two miles at Navan a month ago and was sent off the 7/2 favourite. Smullen bided his time before unleashing his mount with a run which saw him claim top honours by three-quarters of a length from the staying-on Poyzc.
"Pat wasn't the champion, but he rode a really good race there," said Weld afterwards. "Him and Johnny are two brilliant riders and Johnny has been riding right at the top of form to win.
"Today was the day for my horse. We'll find a race for him at Leopardstown at Christmas, maybe the Grade One Hurdle. He is a very good horse and two miles is probably his trip, but the way he finished today he might even get further."
Earlier, Weld was out of the luck as another of his classy hurdlers, Unaccompanied, had to settle for the runner-up berth after being outpointed by Tobar Na Gaoise.
Jim Bolger's 10/1 shot had disappointed at the track last week but clearly benefited from this step back up in distance. Unaccompanied went for home first but she had no answer when Tobar Na Gaoise quickened up under Kevin Manning.
Twirl continued Aidan O'Brien's excellent weekend with a bloodless victory in the opening fillies maiden.
The master of Ballydoyle, who enjoyed a famous double at the Breeders' Cup at Churchill Downs on Saturday night, saw his 10/11 favourite rout her rivals as Seamie Heffernan kept the filly up to her work in the straight to score by six and a half lengths from Maude Adams.