Johnny Murtagh has been confirmed as the rider of Novellist in Saturday’s King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
In the absence of the six-times Group One winner St Nichols Abbey, Novellist is now the 4-1 second favourite behind Cirrus Des Aigles with the sponsors Betfair, and trainer Andreas Wohler has moved to snap up Murtagh who is riding at the top of his game.
Ryan Moore partnered the four-year-old to win the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud last time out, when Cirrus Des Aigles could finish only fifth on his first run of the year.
However, Moore will be required to ride Michael Stoute’s Hillstar, who was supplemented on Monday at a cost of £75,000.
William Buick is another who has ridden Novellist before, but his boss John Gosden is likely to have runners at York on the same afternoon. That meant Wohler turned his attentions to Murtagh who, despite starting a training career this summer, remains at the peak of his powers in the saddle, as he showed when winning the Irish Oaks aboard the wayward Chiquita last weekend.
“We’ve booked Johnny Murtagh as there were question marks over the other jockeys we’ve used before,” said Wohler.
“The owner (Dr Christophe Berglar) didn’t want to be hanging around until the last minute, which is understandable, so we’ve booked Johnny.
“Now we have certainty and Johnny is obviously in really good form.”
The Mark Johnston-trained Universal has won four of his last five starts and was most impressive when winning the Princess of Wales’s Stakes at Newmarket last time.
He tests the water at Group One level for the first time this weekend. Bruce Raymond, racing manager to Universal’s owner Abdulla Al Mansoori, said: “I spoke to Mark Johnston’s stable on Monday and Universal is in top form. All is good with the horse and Mark is very happy with him.
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