Sonnyboyliston delivered a resounding knockout blow to
leave his rivals flat on the canvas and win the Comer Group International Irish
St. Leger, writes Jack Lacey-Hatton.
And trainer Johnny Murtagh revelled in finally breaking his Classic duck and delivering a second Group 1 triumph to cap a memorable Longines Irish Champions Weekend.
Always travelling well under jockey Ben Coen, Murtagh’s four-year-old star managed to fend off a brave challenge from 2020 Melbourne Cup winner Twilight Payment at the Curragh.
And it rounded off a scintillating summer for the gelding, who also won the Ebor Handicap at York in a photo finish just over three weeks ago.
The three-and-a-quarter length triumph on Champions Weekend was slightly more straightforward – but still a competitive finish as Sonnyboyliston was forced to dig deep.
And trainer Murtagh, who won the 1m6f furlong contest as a jockey aboard Jukebox Jury ten years ago, said: “I thought we had a little chance and he was one of our best runners of the week.
“He never disappoints and I though he did very, very well to win – it looked like a proper race.
“I was a nervous wreck beforehand, as I was running out of chances for this weekend. When he came up on the bridle he looked confident.
“He never lacks heart in a battle, and I thought Ben was brilliant.
“I want to have runners at Champions Weekend – these are great races and I can’t say enough of this boy. They told me he would stay this distance, and I wasn’t sure as I thought he was maybe a mile-and-a-half horse.
“Stretching him out has brought that extra bit of improvement.”
In the final Group One of a terrific weekend of action at both Leopardstown and the Curragh, Joseph O’Brien’s Twilight Payment produced a huge effort to put Murtagh’s mount under pressure.
The eight year-old took over the lead from Amhran Na Bhfiann, who had set the pace early doors with birthday boy Colin Keane in the saddle, before fading on the home straight to finish 11th.
The Dermot Weld-trained Search For a Song, winner of the race on the last two occasions, ended up in sixth while O’Brien’s Baron Samedi finished third.
It was all about Sonnyboyliston, however, who produced a magnificent late rally to propel Murtagh to Classic stardom and cap a Champions Weekend to savour.