IT was Johnny Murtagh day at Down Royal on Friday, July 24, when the former top jockey who won the feature on ‘Masilia’ 19 years ago registered a hat trick including the featured Ulster Derby with ‘Red Kelly’. The winner was defying a 21lb rise in rating to win the province’s premier flat race – powering home on the outside to beat ‘Sunchart’, which had attempted to make all with ‘Baby Zeus’ in third and ‘Aesop’ and ‘Emperor Of the Sun’, which were last for most of the race, ran on to fill fourth and fifth respectively.
Winning jockey, Ben Cohen was completing a double to put him in top spot in the apprentice championship.
Murtagh said: “The handicapper has his job to do. You can’t blame a horse that is improving, he is bred to improve with time and with distance and he has improved from his first run of the year to his last run. I don’t think there are too many horses in Ireland that get 21lb; he was proved right to give him 21lb. We’ll see what he gives him again, he has a job to do. We think he is a big baby and, whatever he does this year, he is sure to improve.
“I had a lot of big horses last year and that is why we are having such a good year this year. They seem to have strengthened up over the winter. I did (fancy him today). I thought it was going to be tough, I would have loved to have had a run in between. It’s the fifth run of his career and he is after winning the Ulster Derby, so he’s probably a pretty smart horse. The second horse (‘Sunchart’) ran in the Irish Derby, so it was a good race. The best two horses were in the front two.”
The Ulster Oaks looked an above average renewal. Top jockey, Wayne Lordan certainly earned his riding fee, being hard at work on the Aidan O’Brien trained, ‘Elizabethofaragon’ from the top of Gravel hill and only in the dying strides denied the front running favourite, ‘Wilderness’, which lost nothing in defeat. ‘Too Soon To Panic’ ran on late to fill third. The winner looks as if will be suited by a longer trip and the runner up, winner of her previous three efforts, should soon be back in the winners enclosure. The Jim Bolger, ‘Slaney East’ was ponied to the start, while ‘Blackcatblackkitten’ went wrong in an early stage of the race.
Lordan said: “It was a mile and a half the last day and she was coming back two furlongs, so it wasn’t going to be ideal here on a track like this, because it is quite sharp. She had to dig deep and she fought hard for me. She is by ‘Galileo’ and you never know when they stop improving. You wouldn’t know where she would end up.”
Rookie trainer, Paul Traynor sent out ‘Shumaker’ to record a local victory over the same distance as the Oaks. The winner won at Ballinrobe on Monday and defied a 12lb penalty to score readily with Joe Sheridan again in the saddle. The runner up, ‘Amiad’ came from a long way back to claim minor honours. The local horse, owned by the trainer’s partner Karen McNeilly, got a dream run up the inside two furlongs out to justify strong market support.
Assistant trainer and owner, Karen McNeilly said: “We are aiming for something in Galway – we have hurdles and flat to consider. ‘Shumaker’ has just proved to be an absolute star of the yard, he really has. We only have a few, but anything we have brought out do pretty well for us. We are aiming for a hurdle race in Galway for him, it depends on whether our mark is high enough to get in. If he didn’t get in, we would take a look at the flat (in Galway) and see what there is as he’s very versatile.”
Racing got underway with a valuable two-year-old contest and a clear cut victory for the Johnny Murtagh-trained, ‘Measure Of Magic’, partnered by Shane Kelly, while owned by JP Murtagh racing. The winner was always in the front rank and commanded from the elbow into the straight while favourite, ‘Logo Hunter’ proved one paced at the finish.
Murtagh said: “It was a very good race she won at Tipperary – she beat the horse that won the Group 2 the other day (‘Aloha Star’). We always thought a lot of her. We were going to run her before then, but we had a bit of a hold up with a dirty scope. There’s a Listed race in a couple of weeks in Naas and we’ll go for that.”
Murtagh doubled up when ‘She’s Our Queen’ ran out the winner of the fillies maiden, denying the persistent effort of ‘Fictitious Lady’ in the final furlong. Partnered by Ben Cohen, who tops the apprentice championship currently, the rider was content to wait in fourth as ‘Toora Loora’ tried to make all, however, eight held chances entering the straight prior to the principal pair stretching clear.
Murtagh said: “Improving all the time – as you can see she’s a very big filly. I’m delighted for the owner (Hassan Alabdulmalik), it’s his first winner for us. We won’t do too much with this one this year because she is big and she is raw, and I think she will improve plenty. Whatever she does this year will be a bonus. That’s one thing about our horses – when they get challenged they know how to get to the line. Ben Cohen did a great job.”
The Willie McCreery trained, ‘Musical Rue’, with apprentice Nathan Crosse aboard, proved the very easy winner of the sprint handicap when making all to score. Smartly away, the winner was always in control, while runner up ‘Misterio’ was always second best in the closing stages, while ‘Earls’ – named after the Irish International Rugby player – had his head down as if ready for a scrum when the stalls opened and ran on late to fill third.
McCreery said: “The visor helped, and the fast five furlongs allowed Nathan (Crosse) to get her into stride early. Hopefully the handicapper isn’t too hard on her. She’ll be out again soon on good ground or faster, she’d be in trouble on slow ground.”
Trainer, Ger Lyons surprisingly had to wait to the finale as the rain arrived to get on the scoreboard, when ‘Chiricahua’, which ran in the Irish Derby, was produced by Colin Keane to beat the front running ‘Silver Fox’. The winner travelled ominously well on the downhill run before challenging in the straight to open his account.