Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Aga Khan decides to dump Murtagh

Johnny Murtagh has had to vacate a second high-profile job in as many years after it was sensationally revealed that “differences between the parties” had prompted leading owner and breeder the Aga Khan to end their association.

The five-time champion jockey is currently sidelined with an injury, having not ridden since fracturing a bone under his eye in a fall at the Curragh on August 12.

Murtagh and the Aga Khan's Irish Stud Farm manager Pat Downes issued brief statements confirming the shock split, but both were more conspicuous for what they didn't say than what they did.

“I was informed that my contract to ride for His Highness the Aga Khan was terminated with immediate effect,” Murtagh's statement read.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank His Highness and his staff in Ireland and France for the very successful years we have had together. I would like to wish them every success in the future.”

Aga Khan's Irish stud farm manager, Pat Downes, said of the partnership's cessation after 20 months: “I can confirm it 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.”

John Oxx, who has supplied the lion's share of Murtagh's winners for the Aga Khan, was unavailable for comment.

Since the Co Meath native's appointment as the Aga Khan's number one jockey in Ireland, he has effectively ridden as stable jockey to Oxx, recently securing a Goodwood Cup victory on the yard's Michael O'Flynn-owned Saddler's Rock.

In all likelihood, Murtagh will continue to partner many of the stable's runners. However, it is of note that, since being passed over for the Aga Khan job in 2010, Oxx's then stable jockey Fran Berry has not ridden for the stable during the past two years.

Shane Foley, who has ridden four winners from 16 mounts for the owner in a fantastic first season as Mick Halford's number one, has been installed the 11/10 favourite by Paddy Power to fill the position.

Speculation inevitably now turns to what caused such a breakdown. Back in November 2010, just a week after Murtagh's decision to walk away from his position as Coolmore's number one rider, the Aga Khan wasted no time in securing Murtagh's signature to ride his horses in Ireland. It amounted to a renewal of a link-up that first showcased Murtagh's riding talents.

During his original stint as Oxx's stable jockey between 1992 and 2003, the 42-year-old amassed 18 top-level victories for the trainer's chief patron.

It is often said that you should never go back, and Murtagh's second stint has certainly been far less fruitful, his only top-level success for his employer coming when he sprung a 25/1 upset on second string Valyra in the Prix de Diane in June.

In the absence of any other explanation for the Aga Khan's sudden change of heart, the only discernible reason for the split might have its foundations in Murtagh's association with the increasingly powerful Tommy Carmody stable. Either way, the sidelined jockey is now in limbo in more ways than one.