Sure touch of Murtagh helps wayward talent land a classic victory

Chicquita gives trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre a second Oaks

Jockey Johnny Murtagh and  trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre celebrate Chicquita’s victory in the Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh on Saturday. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho

Jockey Johnny Murtagh and trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre celebrate Chicquita’s victory in the Darley Irish Oaks at the Curragh on Saturday. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Inpho


If a single ride at the Curragh yesterday represented something of a cushy day at the office for Johnny Murtagh, a Saturday evening hat-trick highlighted by Chicquita’s dramatic Darley Irish Oaks success illustrated how he has become racing’s very own walking-talking, riding-training, multi-tasker extraordinaire.

These days a single mount on a card is not unusual for the 43- year-old former champion jockey. His decision to diversify into training means the demand for his services from other trainers that are now competitors means ‘outside’ rides in Ireland are rare.

But while quantity in the saddle may be down, even more proof that the organisation of a quickly-burgeoning and successful training operation isn’t impacting on Murtagh’s sure-touch when it comes to the quality stuff came in the first Saturday evening Oaks when he somehow persuaded Chicquita to break her maiden in a classic.

The master French trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre doesn’t have to contend with Murtagh-as-trainer on a daily basis and didn’t hesitate to book the Irishman for a filly whose three previous races had shown a talent as wayward as it is undeniable.

A hedge
Riding a filly who had thrown away one race by falling into a hedge was always going to be a challenge for her new rider but Murtagh’s ability to finesse fillies has long since been proven. Five previous Oaks victories had already made him the most successful rider in the race’s history. But No. 6 was notable even by those standards.

Chicquita looked to have everything covered when launching a challenge on the outside of the favourite Riposte but the logic behind de Royer-Dupre’s instruction to Murtagh to make no sudden moves was all too obvious as the temperamental star veered left, crossing the eventual runner-up Venus De Milo, who had to switch inside, before then veering even more dramatically towards the stands-rail.

That she still had half a length in hand was a tribute to the winner’s class and probably a relief too to the stewards in a subsequently lengthy enquiry that made no alteration but which could have been faced with a tricky call if there’d been less in it at the line.

“If she didn’t drift, she’d have won easily. The inquiry went on a while but it was never in doubt,” Murtagh said. “She has lots going on in her mind, but if Alain de Royer-Dupre can channel that energy in the right way, she’s a seriously good filly.”

Quality rides
Murtagh rode and trained Belle de Crecy to win, and initiated a hat-trick on the Eddie Lynam Pearl Of Africa. De Royer-Dupre’s verdict on Murtagh indicates there will always be quality rides available for one of the busiest men in racing.

“Murtagh did well as she is not easy to ride. He got her to relax, and I told him, when he asked her, to do it gently, and not surprise her,” said the Frenchman who was winning the Oaks a second time after Shawanda in 2005.

Murtagh’s juggling ability has been obvious this summer with three Group One victories and the leading rider title at Royal Ascot.

Aidan O’Brien was also in hat-trick form on a Saturday card that attracted 5,647 through the stiles, slightly down on last year’s figure. The highlight was undoubtedly Darwin’s Minstrel Stakes victory and this Group Three doesn’t look the limits of this $1.3 million American import’s ability.