Aidan O’Brien and Frankie Dettori were among those to pay tribute to Johnny Murtagh after the multiple Group One-winning jockey announced his retirement from the saddle yesterday to concentrate on his training career.
Murtagh, 43, is widely regarded as one of the greatest riders of the modern era and partnered over 100 top-level winners at home and abroad during a stellar career.
In May of last year Murtagh took out his training licence, taking over the reins from Tommy Carmody at Fox Covert Stables in County Kildare.
While he enjoyed a fantastic campaign in what turned out to be his final season as a jockey, riding five Group One winners, he feels the time is now right to bring his illustrious riding career to an end.
Murtagh said: “The training side of things is getting bigger all the time and I wasn’t happy giving the riding 50 per cent and the training 50 per cent.
“It’s the right time to call it a day with the riding and put everything into the training side of things.”
Murtagh was successful in each of the five Irish Classics at least once, riding four Irish Derby winners and six Irish Oaks winners, including last year’s French-trained Oaks heroine Chicquita.
He also rode three winners of the Epsom Derby in Sinndar (2000), High Chaparral (2002) and Motivator and was successful in the 2000 Guineas twice, aboard the brilliant Rock Of Gibraltar (2002) and Henrythenavigator (2008).
Murtagh’s other British Classic victory came with a brilliant front-running ride aboard 2011 Oaks scorer Dancing Rain.
The jockey also had a great affinity with Royal Ascot, taking the leading rider award at the summer showpiece meeting for a fifth time last year.
“I’ve done extremely well and when you look at the list of horses I’ve ridden, there have been some brilliant horses,” said Murtagh
“My first Derby win aboard Sinndar was obviously a huge thing and then Yeats was an incredible horse to be associated with.
“Riding and training Royal Diamond to win on Champions Day last year at Ascot (in the Long Distance Cup), that was something very special as well.
“I was very lucky to ride for some great people. I got along with them all and still do. It’s been brilliant.
“When you are riding you can take all the big winners for granted, but when you sit back and think about it, I’ve been very lucky.
“I’m coming up 44 this year and my first Group One was on Manntari for Mr (John) Oxx in 1993 (National Stakes). Someone texted me earlier saying I had 105 Group One winners, but my wife thinks it’s 107.
“I didn’t ride a horse until I was 15 and it’s been fantastic, but it’s now time to move on to the next chapter in my life.
“We have 45 horses in training at the moment, including 20 two-year-olds and we have a few new owners.
“I have the same expectations as when I was riding – the standards are still the same.
“If we get a bit of luck and a good horse comes along, we’ll get there.”
Murtagh enjoyed great associations with some of the biggest stables in the sport, riding as stable jockey for the likes of John Oxx and O’Brien.
He was stable jockey to O’Brien’s powerful Ballydoyle operation between 2008 and 2010, riding such greats as Henrythenavigator, Duke Of Marmalade and incredible four-time Gold Cup hero Yeats.
O’Brien said: “Johnny was a wonderful rider and we had great years together when he rode for us.
“He will be a great trainer and we would like to wish him, Orla (Murtagh’s wife) and all the family every success in the future.”
The rider also had a successful spell with Michael Stoute, while Jeremy Noseda, James Fanshawe and Motivator’s trainer Michael Bell were others to call upon his services.
Bell said: “He was a very gifted jockey. I’ll be forever grateful to him for his input – not only on the racecourse but his advice having ridden work which played a huge part in Motivator’s three-year-old career.
“It was very hard for him to combine both jobs (riding and training), so I’m sure it was the sensible thing to do.”
Murtagh also enjoyed a fruitful association with the Aga Khan, riding as his retained jockey until August 2012.
The owner’s stud manager Pat Downes said: “He was one of the great, great jockeys and he had some fabulous days with the Aga Khan.
“He was a great man for the big occasion and a great man for the small occasion too. He was good at bringing young horses along and identifying horses he liked particularly at an early stage.
“He was an all-round jockey. We all know what Ascot brought out in him, but he was just a great man to have on your side on a big day
“He knew how to make a plan on how to ride a horse to big effect on a big day and was a great person too.
“He’ll probably have it a little easier now. It wasn’t easy for him riding way below what was his natural weight. He found it tough going, but he was very dedicated and I think he’s going to have a great training career now.
“He’s made such a wonderful start and I look forward to seeing the next chapter.”
Frankie Dettori, who like Murtagh has been in the upper echelon of Flat jockeys for a number of years, paid tribute to his great friend and former colleague.
Dettori said: “Johnny is probably one of the best judges of pace I’ve ever come across and one of the most hard working and talented jockeys I’ve ever ridden against.
“I’m genuinely upset that he will no longer be in the weighing room when I go in there.”
Eddie Lynam provided Murtagh with a number of big-race victories, with the jockey producing a typically brilliantly judged ride to get Sole Power up in the last stride of last summer’s King’s Stand at Royal Ascot.
The jockey’s last ride was on the same horse in the Hong Kong Sprint at Sha Tin in December.
“He’s been a great jockey. It’s a big loss to me, but we’ll have to get on with it,” said the County Meath handler.
“I was talking to him on Monday and wished him a happy retirement. He’s going to be a good trainer now, so we will have to compete against him.
“He gave Sole Power a fantastic ride in the King’s Stand. It was best summed up by James Willoughby that day. He said Johnny sold lengths when they were expensive and bought them when they were cheap.
“A top man, a very good jockey and I wish him well in his retirement.”
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