Sport Horse Racing

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Pretty Polly plan comes together for Murtagh

Sarah O’Brien guides Beach Of Falesa (owned by her mother, trainer by her father) to victory
Sarah O’Brien guides Beach Of Falesa (owned by her mother, trainer by her father) to victory
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Johnny Murtagh once again showed why he remains in demand on the big days by stealing the Pretty Polly Stakes at the Curragh with an exquisite front-running steer aboard English raider Ambivalent.

Without the backing of an established big stable this year due to his increasing commitments as a trainer, the 43-year-old five-time former champion jockey had just six domestic winners to his name prior to Royal Ascot.

However, he stole the show there with four wins earning him a fifth leading rider's crown, and Roger Varian snapped up his services for his four-year-old Authorized filly yesterday.

That was surely the bespectacled young handler's shrewdest move, as Murtagh dictated the fractions superbly before his mount knuckled down gamely to prevail by a half-a-length. Ballydoyle's 2012 Epsom Oaks heroine Was kept going over the 10-furlong trip for second, with Shirocco Star a neck back in third.

"That was the plan," Varian said of Murtagh's tactics in the Oxigen Environmental-sponsored feature. "I said to Johnny that she stays well; we have nothing to lose, be positive and see what happens. He gave her a brilliant ride and she was very tough."

The €120,000 coup was Varian's first in Ireland, and Murtagh's first for him. "It's been a great few weeks," the jockey admitted.

"If you're not with a big stable, you're hoping that you will pick up spares, and it just seems to happen that when you get on a roll, they keep coming. A lot of people were telling me that I couldn't do it this year because of the training, but I always believed I could. I just hope it keeps going now!"

Varian said that he has no plans for his 10/1 winner, though he will go a long way before finding another Group One as soft as this. Successful in a handicap off a lowly mark of 72 a year ago, Ambivalent managed just one win in six subsequent starts.

However, yesterday's showpiece was robbed of much of its intrigue when the exciting early favourite Alive Alive Oh was withdrawn mid-morning. Was eventually went off the 5/2 market leader, but it was the Ali Saeed-owned Ambivalent that took advantage of the diminished opposition under an inspired Murtagh.

After Izzi Top's triumph in 2012, it was the eighth time since 2000 that the fillies' contest went for export, and a seventh in that time to wing its way to Newmarket.

Champion jockey Joseph O'Brien also made all on the first-time visored Bye Bye Birdie (9/2) in the Grangecon Stud Stakes, and Aidan O'Brien later watched another of his offspring triumph when Sarah swooped late on Beach Of Falesa in the Ladies Derby.

It was the 18-year-old's debut winner, though you wouldn't have thought it until she returned to the winner's enclosure beaming.

A third of the O'Brien siblings to ride a winner on the track after Joseph and Ana, Sarah – who has just completed her Leaving Certificate exams – timed her run to perfection to steal past Jim Bolger's Jane Mangan-ridden Eighteen Summers inside the final furlong.

The young rider has aspirations of a veterinary career, and her father admitted "that's a special one" after watching his wife Anne Marie's colours carried to victory on the 10/1 shot.

Seamie Heffernan completed a superb 642.5/1 treble for O'Brien when storming five lengths clear on Ernest Hemingway (12/1) in the Group Three At The Races Curragh Cup – in the process earning a 14/1 quote for next year's Ascot Gold Cup.

"He's a very good mover and probably loved that ground," said O'Brien. "He showed good acceleration today and I'm delighted with him. He's a beautiful horse – a big imposing type."

In the juvenile maiden, Ballydoyle's fancied Australia failed by just a neck to overcome a tardy start, as fellow debutant Renaissance Art (10/1) added to Saturday's big-race success for Jim Bolger and Kevin Manning.

The Aga Khan's Mick Halford-trained Dabadiyan – a possible candidate for the Irish St Leger – was the only favourite to oblige on the day at 5/2 under Declan McDonogh in the 12-furlong handicap, while Halford completed a double when Shane Foley got Eastern Rules (6/1) up late in the last.

Earlier, Sabrina Harty claimed the lion's share of the €50,000 purse for the one-mile handicap with Ansgar. Her five-year-old returned at 20/1 after attracting each-way money, and justified that support with a decisive victory in the hands of Rory Cleary.

Attendance for the day clocked in at 7,276, an increase of 1,900 on last year.

Irish Independent

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