Murtagh is hit with 21-day ban


Report from Leopardstown: Johnny Murtagh will miss the Irish Champion Stakes ride on Motivator, and much of the rest of September, after receiving a dramatic 21-day ban at Leopardstown yesterday for punching Pat Smullen in the face just after passing the post in the first race.

As if the afternoon wasn't bad enough for the former champion jockey, Murtagh also picked up a further two-day suspension later in the day for careless riding after riding a winner.

However it was an earlier nondescript six-furlong maiden that turned outrageous just yards after the finish when Murtagh clashed with Smullen and punched his fellow jockey.

Smullen managed to stay in the saddle but the incident was picked up by the stewards' cameras and after an inquiry Murtagh was suspended for "improper riding." The ban, which covers days that flat racing takes place in Ireland, will start tomorrow week and in combination with his other penalty, Murtagh won't be able to ride again until September 21st.

It also throws open the coveted ride on the Derby winner Motivator who is due to clash with Azamour in the Irish Champion Stakes on September 10th. Murtagh has ridden the Michael Bell-trained colt on all three of his starts to date this year.

Yesterday's attack appeared to have been sparked by an incident at half way in the juvenile maiden when bunching involving Murtagh's mount Famous Seamus, Smullen's ride Polished Gem, and Nans Lady ridden by Valdir De Souza, resulted in Murtagh briefly having to snatch up his mount.

The stewards looked at the incident, but could apportion no blame on that one. However, in addition to the 21-day ban, they also severely cautioned Murtagh regarding his attitude to them.

Afterwards the former champion jockey said the punch came in "the heat of the moment" and that he regretted what had happened. Smullen, another former champion jockey who is battling it out with Fran Berry at the top of this season's riders table, declined to comment on the matter.

However, in some respects Murtagh's penalty could be regarded as lenient. Famously Kieren Fallon got a six-month ban at Beverley in September of 1994 for dragging another jockey off his horse as they pulled up after a race. Fallon's penalty was described as being for "violent and improper conduct". Murtagh's further two days came in the mile and a quarter handicap after his mount, Back To Paris, interfered with Absolute Image, ironically also ridden by Smullen, on his way to winning by two lengths.

Smullen didn't improve on his own tally yesterday but there was no disappointment on his face after Vinnie Roe's third to Chelsea Rose and Shalapour in the Ballyroan Stakes. Vinnie Roe remains on course for an attempt at an unprecedented fifth Irish St Leger triumph in a row after only giving best inside the final furlong.

"I'm very pleased. He doesn't have that mile and a half pace anymore and he was giving a lot of weight to a Group One winner. That should have him spot on for the Leger," said Smullen.

Chelsea Rose will be aimed at the Blandford Stakes with possibly a Listed outing before that and the Doncaster Leger remains the target for Shalapour who was only beaten three-parts of a length yesterday.

"I'm happy because he wasn't sparkling like he was before the Derby. He should come on a good bit," said Shalapour's trainer John Oxx. "He is also in the Irish Leger but Doncaster is more probable."

Oxx and jockey Michael Kinane had better luck in the Group Three Desmond Stakes as the favourite Caradak only just won from Mustameet. The Prix del la Foret on Arc weekend could be the next stop.