Ladies Church has Murtagh excited for King’s Stand mission

It is all systems go for the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot as Ladies Church continued her rise up the sprinting ladder with a bloodless victory in the Sole Power Sprint Stakes at Naas.

A Listed winner over track and trip as a two-year-old, Johnny Murtagh’s speedy daughter of Churchill added to her tally during a respectable three-year-old campaign by claiming the Group Two Sapphire Stakes.

Having started the year with a pair of pleasing efforts in Meydan, she returned to home soil with aplomb and after tracking the pace set by Adrian Nicholls’ raider Tees Spirit, the 4-1 third-favourite surged clear in the hands of Ben Coen in the closing stages to register a three-length victory over the keeping on Moss Tucker.

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“We think the world of this filly and brought her to Dubai during the winter as she likes fast ground,” said Murtagh.

“She was second in a Group two first time out there and I thought she had a real chance on World Cup night. It didn’t happen for some reason, she got a bit of a bump out of the stalls. Ben said she was on the bridle but just didn’t finish off. I think she was on the wrong side of the track as well.

“Since she’s come home her work has been good. It’s hard for three-year-olds to compete in top sprints, she’s four now and I was hoping she’d do something like that today.”

Murtagh had previously indicated this would be a stepping stone to the King’s Stand and confirmed that would be Ladies Church’s next assignment, with Coral, Betfair and Paddy Power all trimming the four-year-old to 14-1 for the five-furlong contest.

“We’re delighted and I think she deserves her place in the King’s Stand,” he continued.

“Even in her work, she works behind, goes to the front and pulls up. I put the cheekpieces on today just to freshen her up and if she did get to the front it might help Ben. She probably didn’t need them today, but it was something different to help her.

“Ben said she pulled up in front and as soon as Billy Lee came to her pulling up she went again.

“We think a lot of her and turned down a lot of money for her. It’s hard to get Group One horses and we think we have one.

“Anyone who has ridden her work always thought she was a high-class filly and could be the real deal. It’s a good start to the season, it’s a big step up to the next level but five furlongs on fast ground at Ascot is made for her.”

Murtagh tasted King’s Stand success twice at Royal Ascot as a jockey, first winning the race aboard Choisir in 2003 before adding to his tally 10 years later with Sole Power.

Winning trainer Johnny Murtagh won the King's Stand Stakes twice as a jockey
Winning trainer Johnny Murtagh won the King’s Stand Stakes twice as a jockey (Brian Lawless/PA)

A further 10 years have passed, but it is somewhat fitting that Murtagh will bid to win the race as a trainer with a horse tuning up for the summer showpiece by claiming a contest named after his former ally.

He added: “She reminds me a little bit of Sole Power, she’s very responsive. She’s very relaxed in behind, but if you sneeze on her she quickens up really well and does things really quickly.

“There are lots of good horses, but the great ones can sit in behind and when you pull them out you just squeeze them and they accelerate.

“It’s like putting your foot on the accelerator. Not a lot of them have it, that’s why the Group One horses are the Group One horses.

“It’s a great feeling for a jockey and it’s not a bad feeling for a trainer as well! I’m pretty happy with that.

“Ben gave her a great ride, he said he was always in control and it was just a matter of when he let her go, and when he let her go she opened up.”

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