22 October 2000

Brough Scott witnesses the 10th Group 1 success in a vintage year for an Irish jockey who has reached the top of his profession

IT IS high time Cloud Nine gave Johnny Murtagh a frequent fliers bonus.

Yesterday’s Racing Post Trophy victory on Dilshaan earned the 30-year-old Irishman an unprecedented and scarcely credible 10th Group 1 triumph of the year.

Afterwards, his honed-down face split into the widest of smiles. “You just can’t believe it,” he said.

Ah, but we can. Murtagh’s big-race style and strategy has been the revelation of the season. Not just in Sinndar’s stunning Derby, Irish Derby and Arc de Triomphe treble but on a string of major successes deputising for the injured Kieren Fallon with Michael Stoute’s stable.

The previous Saturday, it was the Champion Stakes with Kalanisi.

When Stoute saddled Dilshaan in yesterday’s last Group 1 race of the British season we should have looked no further than this appetising prospect at 14-1.

Yet for all the two men’s shared brilliance, this was still a big question for a colt whose only previous appearance was finishing second in a modest maiden race at Sandown Park last month.

Hemingway, the Irish-trained ante-post favourite, may have been withdrawn in midweek but Aidan O’Brien’s stable still fielded a three-strong squad headed by the Michael Kinane-ridden Freud. And the home defence was led by the talented Tamburlaine, whose recent Newmarket success had been preceeded by a neck second to Nayef, now widely rated as the leader of his generation.

Heavy overnight rain had given Tamburlaine’s trainer Richard Hannon severe reservations about risking his colt on what had become very testing ground.

But they seemed to have been needless when Richard Hughes stalked smoothly up the outside as the early leader Snowstorm faded away and Freud struggled to get to his team-mate Darwin.

Earlier on, Hughes had tucked Tamburlaine away with typical patience at the back of the field with Murtagh and Dilshaan as the whippers in. When the pace quickened there were moments when Dilshaan’s head came up with inexperience as extra effort was called for and the divots flew. Two furlongs out Tamburlaine swept through to put all those inside him to the sword. Behind him, Dilshaan stuck on in what seemed to be no more than respectful pursuit.

But when Murtagh’s right-hand whip smacked twice, the young colt dug deep in answer while in front of him, Tamburlaine began to find rough weather.

When Dilshaan hung left, as green horses do, Murtagh put both hands on the reins to gather him and then with legs and body, urged and insisted on even more intense pursuit.

A furlong out Tamburlaine had a length advantage but Dilshaan was now on a winning surge. A hundred yards from the post he had it, and at the line he was 2 ½ lengths to the good. No flashy brilliance in this ground, but proof that this will always be a dangerous player when stamina is trumps.

So Michael Stoute trained the final Group 1 winner of the season for Saeed Suhail, the Dubai-based owner for whom he saddled King’s Best to take the first, the 2,000 Guineas, in what seems an age away. The champion trainer is far too canny to load this horse with hyped-up predictions beyond saying that he shows more speed than most horses by his sire Darshaan.

As a breed, the one thing they tend to do is to improve as three-year-olds.

Expect to see this in the Sandown Classic Trial or the Chester Vase and with normal progress and softish going, the quote of 20-1 for Epsom’s Vodafone Derby might not seem that short.

By then, trainer and jockey may have teamed up for another spell on the highest cloud. Petrushka and Kalinisi are due to run for them in Kentucky’s Breeders’ Cup in a fortnight, from where Murtagh then journeys down to Australia for Enzeli in the Melbourne Cup.

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