If his training career has so far struggled to live up to his history-making career as a jockey then Johnny Murtagh went some way to rectifying that at Leopardstown on Irish Champions Weekend, writes Bradley West.
The Flat racing legend rode 106 Group 1 winners in the saddle but his training career to date hasn’t quite lived up to that, despite an encouraging 36 winners this season.
But the 50-year-old continued his storied association with the Coolmore America 'Justify' Matron Stakes, having won the race three times as a jockey, by taking victory with Champers Elysee ahead of pre-race favourites Peaceful and Fancy Blue.
In doing so, he became the first person to have trained and rode a winner in the one-mile contest – a feat he hopes will now see people focusing on his training, rather than riding, career.
"It feels great," Murtagh said. "I’m sick of everybody saying ‘oh you had such a great career as a jockey’. That’s in the past, it’s the now I’m worried about.
"It’s been a brilliant year but to win a Group 1 on Champions Weekend, it means everything. That’s what you get up in the morning for.
"I have to say thanks very much to my wife, my family who are very supportive, all the staff back at the stables and everyone who supports us through a tricky year.
"I wouldn’t have believed them [if someone had said his first Group 1 win would come with Champers Elysees] but she was always a good filly.
"The amount she has improved is unbelievable. She’s improved a lot physically. Handicap, Listed, Group 3 and now she’s a Group 1 winner. When those fillies start improving there’s no end to them."
If he was cool coming into the weekend, even going as far to say a victory at the showcase two-day Flat racing festival is “going to happen”, then Murtagh was anything but as the race entered its memorable conclusion.
Aidan O’Brien’s Love Locket took an early lead but it didn’t take long for Murtagh’s two challengers, Know It All also in the fray, to make their mark.
It was Know it All, Murtagh’s pre-race selection as his key challenger, who raced to the front as the race entered its final furlongs.
But, out of nowhere, Champers Elysees found a flight of speed to move into position in the closing stages.
And Johnny, alongside wife Orla, couldn’t contain his delight as he roared his three-year-old to the line ahead of the more fancied stars.
Murtagh added: "I was watching both of them. I thought Know It All ran a cracker as well.
"I could see her coming and I could see her coming with Fancy Blue. I thought ‘it’s going to be a battle here’.
"The way she quickened up the last 100 yards, Colin says was very impressive.
"I think we’ll have a bit of fun tonight. I don’t know where next, this was the main plan.
"I suppose the race at Newmarket, fillies again I wouldn’t mind staying in the fillies, and there’s also a chance with the Breeders' Cup mile but we’ll enjoy tonight and then we’ll sit down and make a plan about where next."