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Oisin Murphy makes it business as usual with gritty Berkshire Rocco success

Oisin Murphy earned some relief after a difficult 24 hours as St Leger runner-up Berkshire Rocco opened his account for the season in the Teentech Noel Murless Stakes at Ascot on Friday.

It was announced on Thursday that the reigning champion jockey had returned a positive result for metabolites of cocaine following a test carried out by France Galop at a meeting at Chantilly on July 19, where he finished second aboard The Lir Jet in the Group Two Prix Robert Papin.

Putting aside his off-track issues, the Classic-winning rider was seen at his strongest aboard the Andrew Balding-trained 1-2 favourite to deny Albafora by a head in the Listed prize over a mile and three-quarters.

Murphy said: “He ran fantastically at Royal Ascot when he was second to Santiago and he was second in the Leger on his last start. He is a really tough horse and I’m delighted he got his head in front.

“I would never question his attitude as he is really tough and tries very hard, but he has been on the go since the spring and he has danced every dance.

“He ran in the Derby trial (at Lingfield) and he has been really busy. He was possibly not up to his rating today, but he won and that’s what matters.”

Having been informed of his positive test result in August, Murphy, who subsequently organised a hair sample test, which the Professional Jockeys Association said produced a negative result, is now awaiting news on the analysis of his ‘B’ sample from France Galop.

Oisin Murphy at Ascot on Friday
Oisin Murphy at Ascot on Friday (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

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Murphy, who strongly denies any wrongdoing, said: “I’ve the best people around me and my agent is working tirelessly to try to find me winners and the jockeys’ championship means I’ve got plenty to focus on.

“Absolutely (got hope over the ‘B’ sample). Let’s take every day at a time and try to keep riding winners.”

As for Balding, he believes Murphy’s riding skills will not be affected whatever the outcome of the situation.

The trainer said: “It is a matter for France Galop, but all I can say is that I’ve known Oisin for a long time and he is a very hard-working, professional, talented jockey. I’m sure whatever comes of it, he will come out of it a high-class jockey and that won’t change.”

Though Berkshire Rocco was clear of his three rivals on ratings, Balding feels he did well to win given the testing conditions.

He said: “He has been the bridesmaid in a couple of big races this year. We were taking a bit of a chance, but we thought it would be nice to get his head in front and finish the year on a bit of a high. He has toughed it out, but he has been on the go a while.

“He probably wants better ground than that, so he has done well in the circumstances. He is a tough one, but I did think the filly was going to come and get him.”

Looking ahead to next season, Balding expects the son of Sir Percy to be seen to even better effect dropped back in trip.

He added: “I think he will be very effective over a strongly-run mile and a half. I don’t think he is an out-and-out stayer myself.

“He could possibly be a Hardwicke-type, but there are so many good options for horses like that. We will give him a nice, long break now and look forward to having a lot of fun next year with him.”

St Leger ninth Tyson Fury gave the form of the world’s oldest Classic a further boost when prevailing by a head in the Charlie Waller Trust Novice Stakes.

Kieran Shoemark steers Tyson Fury to glory
Kieran Shoemark steers Tyson Fury to glory (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Richard Spencer, trainer of the 4-1 shot, who is named after the WBC world heavyweight champion, said: “He is a big horse and he probably didn’t handle that ground so we will probably put him away now until next year.

“I thought he ran very well in the St Leger, but they didn’t go quick enough for him. His fractions in the Leger were very quick turning in.

“Next year he will be a stronger horse and we could see him running from a mile and a half down to a mile and a quarter.

“He is an exciting one.”

Raaeq will return to Ascot later this month for a shot at the Balmoral Handicap on Qipco British Champions Day after routing his rivals in the Racing Welfare Handicap.

Trainer Brian Meehan said of the 13-8 winner: “He has just kept improving. He is clearly very talented and is only going to get bigger and stronger.

“He is in the Balmoral, we will speak with connections and discuss it but that seems the most likely next step.”

He added: “I couldn’t be more proud of the horse today as he is really starting to show everything we thought of him.”

Rochester House (6-1) enhanced his value before going under the hammer at the Autumn Horses In Training Sale at Tattersalls with a tenacious success in the ABF The Soldiers’ Charity Gordon Carter Handicap.

Trainer Mark Johnston said: “He obviously stays very well. We took him out of the Cesarewitch as he is in the sales and the owner wanted something to show everybody he is still there rather than taking a pot-shot at the Cesarewitch.”

Ground promises to be key but Kameko ‘ready to go’ for QEII mission

Andrew Balding is relishing the prospect of Kameko finally facing Palace Pier on Qipco British Champions Day – as long as the ground is good at Ascot.

Balding confirmed his 2000 Guineas hero, back to winning form in Newmarket’s Joel Stakes last week, is on course to clash with John Gosden’s unbeaten miler in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, before possibly then heading to America for the Breeders Cup.

He does admit concerns about the possibility of soft ground at Ascot, however, both for Kameko on October 17 and before then – with rain forecast this week – for his St Leger runner-up Berkshire Rocco in the Teentech Noel Murless Stakes on Friday.

Asked if Kameko’s QEII plans remain in place, Balding told Sky Sports Racing: “Very much so – (but) obviously, who knows what will happen with the ground in two weeks’ time?

“He wouldn’t want it too soft, I’m sure of that. But at the same time, he’s fit and ready to go, so it’ll be a decision we have to make on the day.”

The presence of Palace Pier, who appeared to revel in heavy ground when winning the Prix Jacques le Marois at Deauville, promises a clash which excites Balding.

“We’ve been wanting to take him on – it’s just our paths haven’t really met,” he said.

“But I’d rather be taking him on on good ground.

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“I certainly wouldn’t be frightened of one horse. It’s going to be a strong race, plenty of depth, I’m sure – but I just hope the ground conditions are favourable for everyone.”

Palace Pier promises to be a stern rival to Kameko for QEII honours
Palace Pier promises to be a stern rival to Kameko for QEII honours (Megan Ridgwell/PA)

Keeneland may well then beckon for Kameko in early November, although Balding is mindful his three-year-old champion has already had an arduous season.

At the suggestion of travelling to America, he said: “Quite possibly – obviously that comes afterwards, and he’s had a long season on the go.

“We were preparing him for a Guineas we thought (initially) was going to be in May, so it’s been a long old time in training.

“So we’ll just have to get Ascot out of the way, and then make a decision on that.”

He was delighted to see his Classic hero win again at Newmarket, having come up short in the highest class in the interim – twice over longer trips.

“It was a bit of a relief,” added the Kingsclere trainer.

“He was carrying a 5lb Group One winner’s penalty against some very good older horses, so it wasn’t a straightforward task.

“But he did it really well, and just showed what a high-class horse he is – he’s got an extraordinary stride on him when he really hits top gear.”

As for the failed ventures over 10 and 12 furlongs, Balding said: “It’s easy with hindsight – there were mixed messages in his pedigree.

“The Derby, we knew, was a bit of a punt. But I always thought he was going to get a mile and a quarter – (then) obviously, it looked at York that he’s just short of that.”

Berkshire Rocco (red cap) went down fighting in the St Leger
Berkshire Rocco (red cap) went down fighting in the St Leger (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

By contrast, Berkshire Rocco proved at Doncaster that stamina is his forte – and Balding is optimistic about an overdue second career victory as he tries again over the same trip against just three opponents in Listed company.

“You’d hope (it’s a good opportunity), certainly on official ratings and performances so far this year,” he said.

“But there is quite a lot of rain forecast at Ascot, and that is a concern.

“He certainly handles good to soft, probably soft. But if it turned heavy, it would be a concern – (so) we’ll have to see how much rain comes, and when it comes.

“We’re an earlyish race, so I hope it will be all right.”

However he fares, Berkshire Rocco is expected to return in 2021 – with major prizes on his trainer’s wish list.

“He’s been a grand horse this year, and he stays in training and should be a fine older middle-distance horse next year,” said Balding.

“I’d say he stays well, but at the same time he’s effective at a mile and a half as well – so he’s got all sorts of options next year.

“I would have no problem running him in Group races over a mile and a half – I think he’d be very competitive.”

Berkshire Rocco pencilled in for Ascot

Pertemps St Leger runner-up Berkshire Rocco could be seen next in the Noel Murless Stakes at Ascot.

Although winless in 2020 thus far, Andrew Balding’s colt has run some tremendous races in defeat – finishing second in the Lingfield Derby Trial, the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and the season’s final Classic at Doncaster, as well as placing fourth in the Great Voltigeur at York.

The Kingsclere handler is keen to get the son of Sir Percy’s head in front before the end of the campaign and views the Listed Noel Murless Stakes on October 2 as an attractive aim.

“He has come out of the Leger in good form,” said Balding.

“He will probably go to the Noel Murless in two weeks’ time at Ascot. He deserves to win a race this year and that looks a logical target.

“There has been some interest from abroad, but nothing firm. It is just a case of watch this space.

“I was very proud of the horse last week. He went as close as he could without winning it, but there you go.”