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Curragh Racecourse to pay tribute to Johnny Murtagh on first day of season

March 13, 2014

Curragh Racecourse to pay tribute to Johnny Murtagh

Johnny Murtagh recently announced his retirement from race riding. He has been universally acknowledged as one of the greatest big-race jockeys in the world for the better part of 20 years. The Curragh will honour his achievements on day one of their new racing season on Sunday 23rd March

Murtagh’s rise to the very top of the sport is all the more remarkable when one considers that he had no background in horses and indeed didn’t sit on a horse until his mid-teens. The story goes that as a youngster, Murtagh was a talented boxer, and a man that was watching him in action suggested to Johnny’s mother that he had the attributes to make a jockey. She sent an application to RACE and a future Hall of Famer was on his way in the game.

Initially associated with top Curragh-based trainer John Oxx, Murtagh made an electric start to his career in the saddle, being crowned Champion Apprentice in 1989 and then in 1991, he was appointed as stable jockey to Oxx after Ron Quinton opted to return to his native Australia. That took his career to the next level and having gained his first Group 1 win on the Oxx-trained Manntari in the National Stakes at the Curragh in 1993, he went on to claim the title of Champion Jockey in 1995, 1996 and 1998.

It was in 1995 that he would spring to international prominence thanks to his association with John Oxx’s remarkable mare Ridgewood Pearl. Together the pair won on four of the five occasions they teamed up, with their victories coming in the Athasi Stakes, the Coronation Stakes, the Prix Du Moulin and the Breeders’ Cup Mile.

It was also during those years that he started what would become a habit of winning Classics at the Curragh, with his first Irish Classic success coming on Ebadiyla in the Irish Oaks in 1997 and he won that race again the following year on the Oxx-trained Winona.

A horse that added to his Group 1 tally at HQ and also proved to be one of the most talented horses he ever rode was Sinndar. The John Oxx-trained colt won the National Stakes at the Curragh as a juvenile before going on to win the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, the Epsom Derby, the Irish Derby back at the Curragh, the Prix Niel and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp as a three-year-old.

However, it wasn’t all good times for Murtagh, as personal problems and issues with his weight saw him leave the John Oxx stable to go freelance in 2003, but such was his return to form once he got everything in order that he was offered the most lucrative job in racing in 2008, the retained rider for the Coolmore partnership of John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith, making him the stable jockey to Aidan O’Brien in everything but name.

That welcomed in an era of remarkable success for Murtagh, with him securing no less than 21 Group/Grade 1 wins in 2008. That golden era continued for another two seasons until Murtagh left Ballydoyle at the end of the 2010 season and returned to where he started, John Oxx, to ride as the Aga Khan’s retained rider. That partnership was working with its usual fluency until Murtagh dramatically split with the Aga Khan in August 2012 and he was once again a freelance.

Many thought that would prove to be the last major action of Murtagh’s riding career, as with him taking out his trainer’s license and not having the backing of a major stable for his riding talents, most presumed he would soon retire, but 2013 proved to be a remarkable campaign for him, with him riding five Group 1 winners as well as being crowned leading rider at Royal Ascot.

Very few top-level sportsmen retire at the very top of their game by their own free will, but at the age of 43, Johnny Murtagh has done just that.

All told, Murtagh rode the winners of no less than 15 Classics at the Curragh, including no less than four renewals of the Irish Derby (Sinndar, Alamshar, Fame And Glory and Cape Blanco), a tally that only a select few can say they have bettered.

With his body still very much intact, he will now focus on his burgeoning training career which has already seen him enjoy Group 2 success at the Curragh with Belle De Crecy in the Lanwades Stud Blandford Stakes. While we may not see him in the saddle again, we have anything but seen the last of the great Johnny Murtagh.

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