Sport Horse Racing

Saturday 25 January 2020

Odds favour rerun of two-horse race

But old firm will be pushed all the way, says Ronan Groome

Announcing his retirement a couple of weeks back, Willie Supple referred to the prospect of riding Group winners in Ireland as a "closed shop."

He's not wrong. If you go through all the Group race winning jockeys in Ireland last season, the same names come up over and over again. In fact, if you narrowed it down to Pat Smullen, Johnny Murtagh and a Ballydoyle-associated jockey, you'd have accounted for just over 60 per cent of the Group race wins.

And, if you rewind 12 years to the 2000 Irish Flat jockeys' championship, it was Smullen and Murtagh fighting it out. The same pair were first and second last season and are first and second in the betting for the title again this season.

Rarely do you get a sport like racing, where individuals can stay on the top for so long. Mick Kinane won the championship 13 times. Murtagh and Smullen have 11 titles between them, and both look likely to be bang there again this season.

Johnny Murtagh

Best odds: 7/4

For someone who left the 'biggest job in Flat racing' as Ballydoyle number one, Murtagh didn't fare too badly last season. Jukebox Jury's dead heat in the Irish St Leger meant that the Meath rider had secured all five of the Irish Classics, and a fifth Irish jockeys' championship was secured on the final day of the season, when he maintained his advantage over Smullen by three wins.

Murtagh was undoubtedly helped by regaining his partnership with the Aga Khan, which allowed him attain the support of John Oxx and Mick Halford. He can look forward to the same strong supply again this season and he has already got the campaign off to a flyer with big-race success aboard Sharestan in the Irish Lincoln at The Curragh last Sunday.

It won't be ideal for Murtagh's championship hopes that he is likely to be in Britain for all the big fixtures this season; however, on the flip side, he should also be able to pick up some nice rides on the increasing amount of British raiders that come over here, as a result of the relationships he has built up with strong stables across the water over the years.

Pat Smullen

Best odds: 7/4

You know what you're going to get with Smullen. In each of the last five seasons, he has ridden 600-plus horses, and you can guarantee that with a similar supply he will be up there again in his bid to win a seventh title.

That Smullen has indicated more than once that winning the jockeys' championship is a top priority for both him and Dermot Weld is highly encouraging for his chances. His commitment to Weld was best illustrated by how quickly he turned down the Ballydoyle job last season, and the pair have a unique understanding.

Their partnership was at its brilliant best last season at Galway, where Smullen was instrumental in Weld's overall success during the week, adding 12 winners to his own tally. With Glorious Goodwood due to clash with Galway again this season, Smullen will have ample opportunity to steal another march on his rivals.

Joseph O'Brien

Best odds: 3/1

It seemed as though Ryan Moore was all set to be installed as full-time jockey at Ballydoyle towards the end of last season, but that hasn't materialised and it could well be the case that O'Brien will be the number one for his father Aidan this season.

Joseph rode five of the seven Aidan O'Brien-trained runners at The Curragh last Sunday and he also took the ride on So You Think in the Dubai World Cup yesterday. He clearly has the trust of his father and the owners, given that he was on board the likes of Camelot, Maybe and St Nicholas Abbey last season, and with the Ballydoyle power behind him, he has a leading chance of toppling the big two.

Perhaps a more important point regarding his chances was the announcement of the raising of weights that Flat horses will have to carry. By mid-May, in all maidens, conditions races and nurseries, the minimum weight allowed will be 9st, while the same will apply to the vast majority of black-type races. O'Brien should comfortably handle 9st.

Wayne Lordan

Best odds: 16/1

After his lightning start to the season, Lordan was the subject of support in the betting for the championship last week.

Lordan has steadily progressed up the ranks and has finished fourth in the championship three times. He can't boast the same ammunition as his main title rivals, but he has two strong stables behind him in David Wachman and Tommy Stack.

It's also worth noting that should he remain in contention towards the latter part of the season, more trainers may help him out, as was the case with Paul Hanagan when he won his first British jockeys' championship.

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