Thursday 19 April 2018

Murtagh the difference as wayward French raider avoids Oaks disaster

Chicquita (right) ridden by Johnny Murtagh wins the Darley Irish Oaks on Saturday
Chicquita (right) ridden by Johnny Murtagh wins the Darley Irish Oaks on Saturday
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

As has often been the case from reduced opportunities this term, Johnny Murtagh was probably the difference between a race being won and lost when he guided the wayward Chicquita to victory in the Darley Irish Oaks.

A fantastic treble on the day courtesy of wins aboard Eddie Lynam's Pearl Of Africa and his own emerging stable's Belle De Crecy either side of his third Group One triumph of the year brought his domestic running tally to a modest 14.

The five-time champion's haul, though, has come from a relatively paltry 55 rides for a staggering strike rate of 25.5pc.

Foreign handlers have provided both of his Group One victories in Ireland this year. They were equally keen to utilise the services of one of the all-time greatest jockeys in helping him claim a fifth top jockey's prize at Royal Ascot, when four winners (and a narrow Gold Cup defeat on Simenon) from just 11 rides returned an even more impressive 36pc yield.

For all that Murtagh's training vocation is going places fast, such prowess in the saddle reaffirms that – even from slim pickings – he will remain a force to be reckoned with on the big days.

Chicquita did her very best to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the fillies' Classic by veering sharply left across the track inside the distance.

Prior to doing something similar in defeat in the French equivalent, the Montjeu filly fell after drifting right and colliding with a hedge at Saint Cloud. Straightforward she isn't, which is why Alain de Royer-Dupre moved to secure Murtagh's services at an early remove last week.


No Irish-trained horse has now won the Curragh showpiece since Murtagh helped Moonstone to break her duck in the race in 2008, so it is slightly ironic that the 43-year-old should be instrumental in another maiden getting off the mark on such a grand stage.

De Royer-Dupre, whose only previous top-level coup in Ireland came courtesy of Shawanda's Oaks win in 2009, thinks plenty of his quirky filly, and has designs on the Prix de l'Arc for her.

It remains to be seen if she has the quality or temperament for that standard of event. Saturday's race is hard to gauge, with Just Pretending setting a steady early gallop.

That seemed to unsettle the Epsom heroine Talent, but Just Pretending's Ballydoyle stablemate Venus De Milo also raced keenly as a consequence, before taking her time to pick up late on.

Whether the slow pace cost her the race or not is impossible to say, but she vindicated the decision to supplement her for just her third run.

Chicquita's slight interference with her as she ran sideways under Murtagh certainly didn't cost Venus De Milo the race, and the relief afterwards was that the stewards didn't draw attention on themselves by finding otherwise.

Lately, the lamentably inconsistent and unpredictable standard of stewarding in this country has been all too prevalent, with the decision to demote Positive Vibes to second at Killarney on Monday the most incomprehensible.

Shalaman was awarded the race, having drifted from the outside to try to challenge between horses inside the distance, before switching out again.

If Leigh Roche had kept Shalaman straight, he would have won regardless, so he and his mount, which appeared to be hanging towards the inside, were the architects of their own downfall.

There was hardly a gap to aim for in between Positive Vibes and Castle Guest, and Shalaman shouldn't have been going there anyway. Connections are appealing the verdict.

In recent years, the appeal panels have frequently corrected what many consider to be glaringly incorrect decisions, so this is another opportunity for them to set the record straight.

As ever, though, that will be of no benefit to those who lost on Positive Vibes on the day.


On the day that the choicely bred Australia confirmed his potential for next year's Classics with a convincing success in the seven-furlong maiden, Darwin also emerged as another potentially serious Group One contender for Ballydoyle on Saturday.

Both horses scored at long odds-on under Joseph O'Brien, but it was Darwin that left the most immediate impression, readily dispensing with Tom Hogan's brilliantly consistent Group One winner Gordon Lord Byron in the seven-furlong Invesco Pension Consultants Minstrel Stakes.

A maiden winner in America before being purchased by Coolmore for a cool $1.3m, the Big Brown three-year-old could return to a mile for the Prix Jacques Le Marois over a mile on August 11, though he also has the option of the featured Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood.

Hogan reported yesterday that his runner-up is Deauville-bound a week earlier for the furlong-shorter Prix Maurice de Gheest.

Aidan O'Brien eventually departed the Curragh with a treble on Saturday, the middle leg coming via Wilshire Boulevard (7/1) in the Group Three Anglesey Stakes under Seamie Heffernan, who went on to complete his own double when Patrick Prendergast's Manalapan took the 10-furlong maiden at the same odds.

Mick Halford's Eastern Rules recorded his own Curragh double in the Handicap.

Successful in a similar seven-furlong affair at headquarters on Derby weekend, Shane 'Dusty' Foley's mount produced an even more authoritative show here to make light of an eight-pound hike in the ratings to score comfortably by two-and-a-half lengths.

The progressive five-year-old, backed from 6/1 into 4/1 favouritism, is now likely to try for a bit of black type after winning for a third time in four starts.


John Oxx's reports that Saddlers Rock will bid to bounce back from his Ascot Gold Cup flop in the Artemis Goodwood Cup (August 1) that he won 12 months ago.

Without a win since justifying favouritism under Johnny Murtagh in the Group Two last year, the five-year-old has failed to fulfil the promise of that victory by not making the frame in any of his seven subsequent starts.

"We were a bit disappointed with him in the Gold Cup," Oxx admitted. "The race was run to suit him, but, for whatever reason, he ran a bit flat on the day.

"He has had a good interval now, so hopefully he can run up to his best at Goodwood. We know he likes the track there, so we'll see what happens."

Numbers game

3 Number of vertebrae (T2, T3 and T4) fractured by reigning champion conditional rider Mark Enright when race leader Jabus fell under him at the third-last hurdle at Kilbeggan on Friday night.

The talented Co Limerick native has a share of the lead with David Splaine in the current conditionals' table, but now faces up to three months on the sidelines.

Tweet of the week


Group 1s run so far this season in Ireland – O'Brien x 1, Charlton x 1, Hills x 1, Varian x 1, Bolger x 1 & de Royer-Dupre x 1 #competitive

– Horse Racing Ireland and Irish Thoroughbred Marketing employee Aidan McGarry highlights the spread of this season's domestic Group One spoils.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport