Sport Horse Racing

Sunday 25 February 2018

Richard Forristal: Emergence of Murtagh 'the trainer' simply extraordinary

Johnny Murtagh celebrates Saturday's Ascot success aboard Royal Diamond
Johnny Murtagh celebrates Saturday's Ascot success aboard Royal Diamond
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

There was to be no repeat of last year's dizzy quartet of Champions Day winners, but the sizeable raiding party at Ascot on Saturday still left an indelible mark.

Johnny Murtagh is enjoying a sensational campaign in his new dual role, and he got the day off to a flyer with an exquisite last-gasp triumph on Royal Diamond in the stayers' Group Three. It was a turn that exemplified everything about the 43-year-old's rejuvenation as a big-race rider.

A similarly inch-perfect King's Stand steer on Sole Power helped him to the leading rider's award at the royal meeting back in June, and he also enjoyed King George victory at the Berkshire venue aboard Novellist.

Murtagh has responded to his sacking by the Aga Khan last year with familiar tenacity, though his ascent as a fledgling handler has arguably been even more impressive.

Indeed, his emergence as a trainer has been a highlight of the campaign. Lest we forget, Royal Diamond was thrashed in a Fakenham maiden hurdle on his last start in England in March 2012, and had a modest Flat rating of 82 when he first ran under Tommy Carmody's auspices.

He is now an Irish St Leger and Champions Day winner that was rated 112 prior to Saturday's heroics, yet is due to be sold off as Andrew Tinkler strives to improve his team.

Belle De Crecy, which Murtagh supplemented for Saturday's mares' Group One at a cost of £35,000, is also to be sold after picking up £114,000 for her gallant second to Seal Of Approval.

Rich Coast secured Murtagh his 15th domestic training win of the season by outpointing Brendan Brackan in Saturday's Listed race at Cork.

In short, it has been a while since any owner-trainer combination made quite such an impact in this country.

It has also been a while since our sprinters possessed so much depth. Slade Power stepped up when Maarek's bid for successive wins in Saturday's six-furlong Group Two stalled at the start. Eddie Lynam left Sole Power at home, yet had the winner and third, with Viztoria grabbing the minor honours. After finishing fourth to Maarek in 2012, Slade Power spent three months out with a fractured pelvis, so wins in two Group Threes and a Group Two – and second to Gordon Lord Byron in the Group One Sprint Cup – is some haul for 2013.

Wayne Lordan was as assured as ever on the winner, and Billy Lee also did nothing wrong riding Eye Of The Storm into third in the stayers' race.

Kingsbarns' third in the QE II and Ruler Of The World's third in the Champion Stakes constituted a qualified success for Aidan O'Brien's trio of runners, because there will almost certainly be plenty more to come from all three as four-year-olds.


Dawn Approach floundered on the soft ground in the QE II, as first-time blinkers stirred Olympic Glory to life in grand style under champion jockey-elect Richard Hughes.

The Godolphin blue was soon back in the winner's circle when Farhh overcame his 154-day lay-off to prevail over Cirrus Des Aigles and Ruler Of The World in a thrilling edition of the headline 10-furlong event.

Notwithstanding a few absentees, the Champion Stakes could hardly have been a better spectacle.

As an aside, it was interesting to see that, without Frankel's input, the day's attendance came in at 24,290, down from the 32,000 that paid in to see Henry Cecil's equine icon 12 months ago and the 27,000 that witnessed the Champions Day initiation in 2011.

For a country with a population of 63.7 million – eight million of which reside in the London area – and an affinity for the Flat, it is only a barely respectable tally given the resources that go into promoting the event.

It gives you an idea of the challenge that faces those charged with selling the champions weekend concept in Ireland for a first time next year. In truth, if they get close to the same figure over two days it would surely constitute a tremendous result.

Doyle to appeal Turf Club ban

Sean Doyle, the third trainer in recent weeks to be banned from holding his licence after a random Turf Club inspection, is to appeal the regulator's decision to hand him an 18-month exclusion.

Amateur rider Andrew Latta's application for a training licence will also not be considered for two years after he was found to be responsible for two horses that he owns with Doyle, but which the Wexford handler was registered to train. Golden Palm and Little Mitch, the horses in question, have been disqualified from seven races, with Golden Palm stripped of its July win at Killarney.

Amateur rider Barry Foley received a six-month ban which has been suspended for two years after testing positive for the drug ecstasy.

Foley claimed to have unknowingly ingested the recreational stimulants. The Turf Club's referrals hearing noted his explanation, but in its finding resolved that such explanations would no longer be deemed sufficient as a plea for leniency. It observed that unintentional ingestion had emerged as a pattern by way of mitigation in similar cases, and that it would no longer be accepted as such.

Kid capitalises on  Fatal Fancy fall

Yesterday's jumps card at Cork was marred by the fatal fall of Farrell's Fancy at the second-last fence in the two-mile handicap chase.

Terence O'Brien's stable star, part-owned by outgoing Cork football manager Conor Counihan, was bang in contention when he suffered a broken leg on crashing out under Rob Jones, who picked up the ride after Davy Condon was stood down for the day after a fall in the first.

That left Willie Codd's Amarillo Kid (12/1) to fend off Fosters Cross in the €50,000 heat, continuing Mikey Fogarty's prolific start to his professional career. Ben Dalton was booked for Amarillo Kid, but was replaced by regular rider Fogarty when his intended mount was scratched.

Fencing also proved crucial to the outcome of the novice chase, with Darroun blundering badly at the last in the back straight.

Despite that, Ruby Walsh's mount got back into contention at the last, only to finally scupper his chance with another mistake there.

In contrast, Owega Star jumped cleanly under Andrew Leigh to hold on by a neck from Golden Wonder.

The 6/4 favourite was completing a 19/1 double for Monasterevin handler Peter Fahey, after the 7/1 shot Four Wives made all to land the handicap hurdle under Kevin Sexton.

The New One tops champion betting

While Our Conor was blowing off the cobwebs at Naas, first blood in the Champion Hurdle exchanges went to The New One courtesy of a 10-length defeat of Rock On Ruby for Nigel Twiston-Davies' prospect at Kempton.

Sent off the 1/2 favourite to topple the Noel Fehily-ridden 2012 Cheltenham hero, the Neptune Novices' Hurdle winner duly delivered in grand style under the trainer's son, Sam. Rock On Ruby, having made much of the running, kept on at one pace for second.

Boylesports took the most drastic ante-post action following the day's events, making The New One their 7/2 favourite for the Cheltenham showpiece from 7/1, while pushing reigning champion Hurricane Fly out from 7/2 to 5/1 despite his not leaving his box. The Dundalk-based firm left Our Conor unchanged at 5/1 and eased Rock On Ruby from 14/1 to 16/1.

Tweet of the weekend


Racing at Bath has been abandoned after a sewage leak in the jockeys' changing room. No crap jokes please...

Twitter was awash with puns yesterday after a flood in the jockeys' changing room at Bath caused the jockeys to kick up a stink. This is Coral bookmakers' official line after the card had to be abandoned following the fourth race.

Numbers game

1.66 Millions of euro that John Oxx's 110-acre farm near Kildare town is reported to have been sold for to a private bidder at auction last week. Qatar's Al Thani royal family, meanwhile, has purchased a 100-acre cattle farm in Croom, Co Limerick that will be developed as a stud for the family's potent bloodstock operation.

23 Combined number of days that Irish riders picked up in whip bans at Ascot. Johnny Murtagh and Pat Smullen got seven days each for their efforts in the stayers' race and will miss the Breeders' Cup, while Billy Lee received a nine-day ban for his ride on Eye Of The Storm.

Irish Independent

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