Mystery surrounds the termination yesterday of Johnny Murtagh’s contract as retained jockey for the Aga Khan’s Irish-trained horses.
The 42-year-old was offered the role in November 2010, after resigning as stable jockey to Coolmore and few details were released as to the reason for his departure.
A statement issued by Murtagh yesterday read: “I was informed yesterday afternoon that my contract to ride for His Highness, the Aga Khan, was being terminated with immediate effect.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank His Highness and staff at his studs in Ireland and France for the very successful years we have had together, and to sincerely wish them every success in the future.”
The Aga Khan, one of the most high profile owner-breeders in the sport, has enjoyed great success with Murtagh, particularly during the rider’s first spell as stable jockey to trainer John Oxx. He guided Sinndar to victory in the Epsom Derby, the Irish Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2000, part of 18 Group One wins he won for the Aga Khan during the period, and took the French Oaks in his green and red silks aboard Valyra this June.
The Aga Khan’s Irish stud farm manager, Pat Downes, indicated there had been “differences between the parties”.
He said: “I can confirm it [Murtagh’s departure] is true. I don’t have a whole lot more to say, other than there were differences between the parties and it was agreed that we would part.”
Murtagh is currently injured after sustaining a hairline fracture to a small bone under an eye when kicked by his mount, Lottie Dod, in the preliminaries before the Phoenix Stakes at the Curragh on August 12.
There was speculation yesterday that the defeat of the Aga Khan’s Hartani by the Tommy Carmody-trained Ursa Major at the Curragh last Saturday was a step too far for the owner.
Carmody trains on the Curragh in a yard that he rents from Murtagh. Carmody has been enjoying a terrific season and Murtagh is increasingly associated with the stable.
The axing has to be regarded as a major surprise, considering the Aga Khan sang Murtagh’s praises in June after he had partnered his ill-fated Valyra to win the Group 1 Prix de Diane at Chantilly. The Aga Khan said: “I had my secret weapon [Murtagh] on board, who is the best man in a finish in Europe if not the world.’’
Murtagh now has links with another increasingly influential owner in Irish racing in Andrew Tinkler, who recently moved the majority of his string to Carmody.
At the time of Murtagh’s appointment, the Aga Khan said: “We have had some wonderful days in the past and we look forward to renewing our successful association.
“I believe it is vital to the continued success of my bloodstock operation to have a retained jockey in the countries where my horses are trained.
“This has been the situation in France for many years and I am most pleased now to have a similar arrangement in Ireland.”
Murtagh has ridden 46 winners so far this year in Ireland and five of his top six money-earners have been Oxx-trained Aga Khan horses, such as Takar and Sharestan, while he has won minor races on horses for the owner’s other Irish trainer, Michael Halford.
Murtagh has landed some of the big British prizes, teaming up with Oxx’s Saddler’s Rock, owned by Michael O’Flynn, in the Goodwood Cup and taking the King Edward VII Stakes at Royal Ascot on the Henry Cecil-trained Thomas Chippendale.
Oxx was unavailable for comment.
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