Murtagh now stands at the very top of his profession

A colleague asked me last Friday if I thought Kieren Fallon or Johnny Murtagh was the better jockey.

There could only be one response to that - Murtagh. If you were talking about Fallon at his best then it would simply be a toss of a coin.

But the Fallon we saw riding in Ireland last season, deprived of plying his trade in Britain and tormented by demons, and the Murtagh who was in action at Royal Ascot last week could only be described as poles apart.

Murtagh has had to slay his own demons, principally drink and weight, and it really is to his eternal credit that he now stands at the very top of his profession.

There is little doubt he had long wanted to be Ballydoyle’s number one rider. It is an open secret that when Jamie Spencer departed Ballydoyle, Fallon and Murtagh were the two names in the frame.

Murtagh must have felt his chance had gone when Fallon got the nod. But the truth is stranger than fiction and the opportunity presented itself again when Fallon’s much-publicised problem with cocaine reared its head.

This time Murtagh really was the only game in town and I doubt Aidan O’Brien or John Magnier have had one moment when they’ve regretted offering him the biggest job in European racing.

Royal Ascot last week only cemented what everyone knew anyway, that he is an international jockey of the highest caliber.

It’s an old cliche, but the relationship between him and O’Brien does seem to be one that was made in Heaven.

Murtagh rides out regularly at Ballydoyle and sits on just about everything in the yard. He’s now 38 years-of-age and that’s surely ideal as far as handling a job that could hardly be more pressurised.

He has always been blessed with an ideal temperament, especially on the days which matter most, and that shone through like a beacon at Ascot.

Murtagh has an uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time. You rarely see horses ridden by him getting into trouble.

Like all top-class sportsmen, his facility for making the task appear simple is what marks him out as being a cut above most of the rest.

He was always in control on Henrythenavigator and Duke Of Marmalade at Ascot. You could argue just about every jockey riding would have scored on them.

Perhaps, you could say the same about Yeats. Fair enough, but I thought he was excellent on Haradasun and simply brilliant on Macarthur and Honolulu.

The manner in which he nursed both Macarthur and Honolulu through their respective contests on Saturday was a joy.

His best season was the year of Sinndar in 2000, when he won a whopping 12 Group 1’s. But, almost astonishingly, he’s already landed nine Group 1’s this campaign.

He hasn’t yet quite got the cult following among punters enjoyed by Fallon, Tony McCoy and Ruby Walsh. But he’s getting there.

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A PIECE in the Racing Post on Tuesday very much caught this particular eye.

It centred on British Sports Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, who is reported to have sent a clear message to racing that it should do more to fend for itself.

Speaking during parliamentary questions in the House Of Commons, Sutcliffe said: “We’ve tried to engage with racing in a positive way.

“Racing is a great sport, but we’ve got to move it away from the mentality of looking for hand-outs and for the sport to stand on it’s own two feet.”

You’d imagine that those who run racing in this country were hoping our Minister, Martin Cullen, didn’t read that. If he ever decided to take on board Sutcliffe’s view of the game, as far as Ireland is concerned, then the shit wouldn’t half hit the fan!

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ENTERED at the Curragh tomorrow night is a two-year-old of Kevin Prendergast’s called Shimah, in the Listed Saoire Stakes for fillies.

If allowed take her chance, she is certainly worth a second glance, having made a spectacular debut at headquarters earlier in the month.

That was the evening of the Epsom Derby and rumour had it then that Declan McDonogh had declined to be part of Aidan O’Brien’s team in the afternoon in order to stay at home to ride her.

She didn’t disappoint, beating Connie Mac by four lengths. Connie Mac subsequently went to Royal Ascot and finished a neck and a head third behind Langs Lash and Shyrl in the Queen Mary. Fourth behind Shimah was Sawtooth Mountain, who bolted in at Gowran Park on Sunday. In eighth place was Take A Chance and he scored in smooth style at Limerick last Friday night.

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