Monday, November 14, 2011

Johnny Murtagh crowned Irish champion jockey

When the hugely popular Johnny Murtagh gave up his coveted job as principal jockey at Ballydoyle at the end of last season many people wondered if he had taken leave of his senses, but his decision has been vindicated in style as he landed his fifth Irish jockeys’ championship on the closing day of the season at Leopardstown on Sunday, writes Elliot Slater.

Murtagh has never gone on record expressing the full reasons behind the parting of the ways between himself and Aidan O’Brien, and although the Ballydoyle team have enjoyed a fine season Murtagh too has forged a great alliance once again with John Oxx (for whom he was stable jockey in the 1990’s), and has been aboard the Aga Khan’s Irish based runners in a season that has netted some 82 victories, four more than his closest rival and defending champion Pat Smullen. Those looking at the Grand National free betting should bear this in mind.

Victory on board the Aga Khan-owned and John Oxx-trained Takar at Leopardstown’s Sunday meeting wrapped up the title and put the seal on what has been a memorable season for Muratgh who proved that he remains as versatile as ever in partnering William Haggas’ Dancing Rain to a brilliant victory in the Investec Oaks at Epsom, in Group 1 company in Germany in September, and again in at the Ascot’s champions meeting last month. Even those looking for Grand National winner should bear this in mind.

Other high profile wins this season for outside yards included Deacon Blues (for James Fanshawe) in both the Wokingham Handicap and Qipco British Champions Sprint Stakes, Lightening Pearl for Ger Lyons in the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket, and a sensational ride to dead-heat on board Mark Johnston’s super-tough Jukebox Jury in the Group 1 Irish Field St Leger at the Curragh in September.

Irish champion jockey in 1995, 1996 & 1998, Murtagh also landed the title in 2009 when based at Ballydoyle.

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