Murtagh opens Leger meeting by making point to Aga
The veterans' race on the opening day of the St Leger meeting was won by one former Ballydoyle stable jockey, Michael Kinane, but it was the undiminished pomp of another, Johnny Murtagh, that warrants top billing.
In Murtagh's case, after all, the stakes yesterday were considerably less frivolous. For while he has only just parted company with the Aga Khan, who hired him immediately after his exit from Ballydoyle in 2010, Murtagh's performance on Sole Power confirmed that many years still divide one of the outstanding riders of the era from the superannuation of those "Legends" jockeys who were on Town Moor only in the name of charity.
It is barely a fortnight since the abrupt termination of Murtagh's retainer to ride the Aga Khan's Irish string. Neither party has elaborated on the split, but it is thought pertinent that Murtagh rents a stable on the Curragh to Tommy Carmody, whose successful return to training will be highlighted here on Saturday when Ursa Major takes on the latest Ballydoyle champion, Camelot, in the Ladbrokes St Leger.
In his trial race Ursa Major beat an odds-on favourite owned by the Aga Khan, when Murtagh – sidelined by injury at the time – assisted with his saddling.
Murtagh will be riding Ursa Major in the Leger, and his display in the Scarbrough Stakes reiterated that he will do so as a master in his prime. Where a less seasoned rider might have had his confidence shaken, Murtagh seems intent on showing how even an empire as mighty as the Aga Khan's must rue a mutual loss.
Sole Power was a fitting conveyance, himself taking the cue to show that he still belongs in the elite. Dropped to Listed company after a series of frustrations in Group One company, he looked impatient with the early pace but was none the less heavily restrained by Murtagh until the final furlong. For a moment, it looked as though such daring would backfire, as they essayed a few blind alleys. Once switched, however, Sole Power scythed down his rivals with contempt.
Eddie Lynam admitted that his nerve had not matched that of Murtagh. "I'm a moderate trainer," he said. "And I'd be a worse jockey." His skilled handling of this horse undermines that protest and, granted fast going, Sole Power will remain a force in the top tier. "He'll go to Paris, for the Abbaye, and he'll go to Hong Kong," Lynam said. "Wherever there's a party, we'll bring him. Today will really help get the horse his confidence back."
As it happens, Kinane still rides out twice a week for John Oxx, the Aga Khan's long-serving trainer, who has played such a key role in Murtagh's career. Kinane retired in 2009 but there was familiar tenacity to the way he urged Patriotic to hold out by a nose in the Clipper Logistics Legends Stakes, in which Julie Krone was unplaced on Sunnyside Tom. At 53, Kinane had an advantage of a dozen years over George Duffield, whose sprightly finish on the runner-up not only belied his eligibility for a bus pass, but offended the refined sensibilities of the stewards.
Duffield was fined £300 for breaching the whip rules, much altered since his retirement, albeit that the sum will be paid to the race charity. On an afternoon of filthy squalls, the mood of nostalgia was not wholly undiluted.
Chris McGrath's nap
Refreshestheparts (5.45 Wolverhampton) Thriving filly who was perhaps left too much to do when closing strongly for third round here recently.
Sentaril (1.50 Doncaster) Freshened up since disappointing last time, the hectic improvement of her first three starts clearly catching up with her.
One to watch
Our Boy Jack (Richard Fahey) Has been collecting bad luck and would have gone close but for his saddle slipping at Thirsk last weekend.
Where the money's going
Ursa Major is 16-1 from 25s with the sponsors for the Ladbrokes St Leger.