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Murtagh to train for the Aga Khan

Johnny Murtagh is “delighted” to renew his association with the Aga Khan, who is to add the trainer to his roster for 2021.

Murtagh enjoyed some of his greatest days as a jockey in the owner’s famous green and red silks.

He won the 2000 Derby at Epsom on Sinndar, with whom he also went on to follow up in the Irish version and win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe for the Aga Khan and trainer John Oxx.

Murtagh also rode the likes of Timarida, Alamshar, Enzeli and Kalanisi to big-race glory – and following on from his first Group One winner as a trainer this season, when Champers Elysees won the Matron Stakes, he has attracted one of the sport’s major supporters to his yard.

“I am delighted to renew our partnership with H.H. the Aga Khan and his team,” said Murtagh.

“A hugely successful owner-breeder operation worldwide, I look forward to receiving his draft of yearlings here at Fox Covert Stables and hopefully many winners to come, to add to our great association together.“

Pat Downes, manager of the Aga Khan Studs in Ireland, said on www.agakhanstuds.com: “We have watched Johnny’s training career develop over the last few years, and undoubtedly 2020 has been a highly successful year for him.

“We are delighted to have the opportunity to have him train for the Aga Khan Studs, and we will be sending him some yearlings in the coming weeks.

“His Highness and Johnny have enjoyed some great days in the past together, and hopefully there will be good days to look forward to in the future as well.”

Murtagh will join Dermot Weld and Mick Halford as trainers for the Aga Khan in Ireland.

Champers Elysees bids to spark Sun Chariot celebrations

Johnny Murtagh has hailed “remarkable” filly Champers Elysees as she bids for a second successive Group One win, in the Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket.

The trainer is fully appreciative of his charge’s rapid upward trajectory this term – graduating from a Curragh handicap win at the start of the campaign, to Listed glory and Group Three success before landing a top-level prize in the Matron Stakes last time out.

Champers Elysees subsequently changed hands and will sport the colours of Teruya Yoshida for the first time at Newmarket – and given it is only her fifth race this term, Murtagh remains hopeful the Elzaam filly still has something in the locker.

Champers Elysees and winning connections after her Matron success
Champers Elysees and winning connections after her Matron success (PA)

He said: “With a filly like her, you just don’t know when they’ll stop (improving).

“She’s been remarkable this year, starting off in a handicap, and she’s gone up to Group One company – winning all the way.

“This will be her fifth run of the year, so she hasn’t been over-raced.

“We know it’s a tough assignment and she has to travel, which she’s never done before, but she’s tough and genuine.

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“Her preparation has gone very smoothly, and we’re looking forward to it.”

Peaceful is a Classic winner
Peaceful is a Classic winner (PA)

Champers Elysees had Irish 1,000 Guineas victor Peaceful back in second at Leopardstown, and Aidan O’Brien’s charge renews rivalry at Newmarket.

She is one of four previous Group One scorers in the race – along with the John Gosden-trained Nazeef, who landed the Falmouth Stakes back in July, Sir Michael Stoute’s Veracious and Billesdon Brook, representing Richard Hannon.

A shock 66-1 winner of the 1000 Guineas back in 2018, Billesdon Brook also sprang a 16-1 surprise in this race last year – and while she has yet to strike in five starts this term, Hannon believes Newmarket brings out the very best in his mare.

Billesdon Brook won the Sun Chariot last year
Billesdon Brook won the Sun Chariot last year (Tim Goode/PA)

He said: “Billesdon Brook loves it at Newmarket. She seems to run 10lb better there than she does on any other track.

“We didn’t think she would win the 1000 Guineas, which she did, and we didn’t think she would win the Kingdom of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes last year, and she did. I see no reason why she shouldn’t run a massive race.

“She comes alive at Newmarket. The straight mile seems to suit her a lot more than a round mile. She is working super at home. She doesn’t need much work because she is quite a keen-going sort – you really don’t have to do too much with her.”

Cloak Of Spirits (left) was a winner at the track last week
Cloak Of Spirits (left) was a winner at the track last week (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Hannon has a second string to his bow in the mile event, which forms part of the Qipco British Champions Series, in Cloak Of Spirits – who returned to winning form in a Listed race at the track last week.

He said: “Cloak of Spirits deserved that win in the Rosemary Stakes last time out. She is tough and a really sweet filly. Sheikh Mohammed Obaid has said to give her one more run.

“She is in good form, she loves the track at Newmarket, and she is just coming good. She came good this time last year, so I am hopeful she can run a big race.”

Comparing his two hopefuls, Hannon added: “Billesdon Brook looks like she is 15 in comparison to some three-year-olds. She is massive, very strong and robust, whereas Cloak Of Spirits is quite slight and elegant.”

Terebellum is one of three runners for Godolphin
Terebellum is one of three runners for Godolphin (Edward Whitaker/PA)

Godolphin have three runners in the race, with the Gosden-trained Terebellum, Saeed bin Suroor’s Final Song and Half Light – who represents Henri-Alex Pantall and was supplemented for the race on Monday.

Feliciana De Vega, who is making her seasonal bow for Ralph Beckett, William Jarvis’ Lady Bowthorpe and the Amanda Perrett-trained Lavender’s Blue complete the line-up.

Champers poised to sparkle again in Sun Chariot

Champers Elysees will face 11 rivals as she bids for a second Group One win in Saturday’s Kingdom Of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket.

The three-year-old completed her meteoric rise through the ranks when landing the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown last month – graduating from a Curragh handicap at the start of the season to top-level success, via Listed and Group Three wins.

Champers Elysees, who is trained by Johnny Murtagh, was subsequently purchased by Teruya Yoshida and will sport his colours for the first time at Headquarters. Like at the Curragh, the daughter of Elzaam will be ridden by Colin Keane.

Peaceful represents Aidan O'Brien
Peaceful represents Aidan O’Brien (PA)

Aidan O’Brien’s Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Peaceful was second to Champers Elysees at Leopardstown and will try to reverse that form under Ryan Moore.

The home defence is headed by the John Gosden-trained duo of Nazeef and Terebellum, with the pair renewing old rivalries having finished first and third respectively in the Falmouth Stakes back in July.

Richard Hannon is also double-handed with last year’s winner Billesdon Brook and Cloak Of Spirits, who struck at Listed level at Newmarket last week.

Billesdon Brook will defend her Sun Chariot crown
Billesdon Brook will defend her Sun Chariot crown (Tim Goode/PA)

As well as Terebellum, Godolphin are also represented by the Saeed bin Suroor-trained Final Song and Henri-Alex Pantall’s Half Light, who was supplemented for the race on Monday.

Last year’s runner-up Veracious tries her luck again for Sir Michael Stoute, while Ralph Beckett’s Feliciana De Vega makes her seasonal bow having won the Darley Stakes on her final start of 2019.

The William Jarvis-trained Lady Bowthorpe and Amanda Perrett’s Lavender’s Blue – the mount of Hollie Doyle – complete the line up.

Matron victor Champers Elysees added to Sun Chariot field

Johnny Murtagh’s Champers Elysees and the Henri-Alex Pantall-trained Half Light have been supplemented for Saturday’s Kingdom Of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes at Newmarket.

Murtagh’s filly provided the former Irish champion jockey with his first Group One win on Irish Champions Weekend when a ready winner of the Matron Stakes and she will maintain her partnership with Colin Keane.

Following her breakthrough top-level win, Champers Elysees has been bought by Teruya Yoshida, a major player in the Japanese bloodstock industry who saw his colours carried to victory in this race by Sahpresa in 2011.

“We’ve been happy with her since the Matron and this looks the next logical step,” said Murtagh.

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“We supplemented this morning. It’s going to be tough race – it’s a Group One they are always hard to win – but we’ve been happy with our filly since the Matron.

“Colin Keane is going to ride her again and we’re looking forward to it.

“For Mr Yoshida to be involved in the yard is a big thing. He runs a huge operation and only buys the best. For her to be good enough for him is great, and it’s also great he’s going to leave her in training with us next year.

“The stable is going from strength to strength and we need those high-profile owners in our yard to elevate us to the next level.”

Half Light, owned by Godolphin, was beaten narrowly by Mark Johnston’s Dark Vision in a Group Two in Germany last time out.

Last year’s winner Billesdon Brook is also one of 17 fillies left in the contest.

She is one of two for Richard Hannon, who could also run Cloak Of Spirits, who got back to winning ways last week having earlier in the season finished placed in the 1000 Guineas.

Billesdon Brook won the Sun Chariot last year
Billesdon Brook won the Sun Chariot last year (Tim Goode/PA)

John Gosden has left in Terebellum and Nazeef, while Sir Michael Stoute’s Veracious is set for her third appearance in the race.

Roger Varian’s Daahyeh, last seen finishing second at the Breeders’ Cup, is another notable entry, but Hugo Palmer took out Powerful Breeze, another filly who has not run this season.

Jessica Harrington could run Albigna while Aidan O’Brien’s Peaceful, winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas, is sure to be among the favourites although she has a length and a quarter to find with Champers Elysees from the Matron.

New owner for Champers Elysees

Matron Stakes winner Champers Elysees has been sold to prominent Japanese owner Teruya Yoshida.

The three-year-old gave trainer Johnny Murtagh his first Group One win in the mile heat at Leopardstown earlier this month, completing her rise from Curragh handicap victor to top-level success, via Listed and Group Three triumphs.

Champers Elysees had raced in the colours of Fitzwilliam Racing, but will now race for Yoshida, who has owned the likes of Elusive Kate, Sahpresa and White Muzzle in the past.

Murtagh tweeted: “We are delighted to welcome Mr Yoshida of Shadai Farm to Fox Covert Stables. Champers Elysees will now run in his famous colours.

“Her next intended engagement is the Sun Chariot Stakes G1 on Oct 3rd @NewmarketRace.”

Kinane and Murtagh lead tributes to Pat Smullen

Mick Kinane hailed a “top-class professional and top-class man” as he paid tribute to his long-time weighing-room colleague Pat Smullen.

Smullen, who died on Tuesday evening at the age of 43 following a brave battle against cancer, succeeded Kinane as stable jockey to Dermot Weld at Rosewell House on the Curragh in 1999 and enjoyed huge success in the role.

Smullen went on to become Irish champion jockey nine times and was a multiple Classic winner, landing the Derby in 2016 aboard the Weld-trained Harzand.

“He was a gentleman. He came to Dermot’s, things moved on and he took over my job and did a fantastic job for a long time,” said Kinane.

“He was a top-class professional and a top-class man. We had some great tussles and we had some good times.

“Unfortunately he couldn’t win his last battle, but he tried so hard.”

Pat Smullen won the Gold Cup at Ascot on Rite Of Passage (right)with Johnny Murtagh second on Age Of Aquarius
Pat Smullen (right) won the Gold Cup at Ascot on Rite Of Passage with Johnny Murtagh second on Age Of Aquarius (Sean Dempsey/PA)

One of Smullen’s keenest rivals throughout his career was Johnny Murtagh, who is now a successful trainer – and as recently as Saturday Smullen was still in touch with his old friend.

“The racing world mourns a true legend,” said Murtagh.

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“I had a big winner on Saturday (Champers Elysees in the Matron Stakes) and one of the first messages I had was from Pat saying ‘well done, Johnny, brilliant win’ so he was showing class right up to the end.

“He set the standard in the weighing room in Ireland, everyone wanted to be like him – he was the champion jockey in Ireland in more ways than one.

“He leaves some legacy. We knew all about him in racing, but it wasn’t until he retired the wider community got to see what he was like, raising all that money for cancer research and pulling so many people together for his charity race last year.

“In and out of the saddle he was just a really great guy and my thoughts and now with Frances (wife) and the kids and his mam, all his family. It will be a tough few days, but we look on his life and career with very fond memories.”

Pat Smullen celebrates winning the Irish Oaks with Covert Love
Pat Smullen celebrates winning the Irish Oaks with Covert Love (Pat Healy/PA)

Newmarket trainer Hugo Palmer will always be grateful for his association with Smullen.

The pair teamed up for a number of big-race victories – most significantly with Covert Love in the Irish Oaks at the Curragh in 2015, as Smullen and the filly gave Palmer his first Classic success.

Palmer said: “I’m hugely saddened by the news that Pat has died. A finer jockey or finer man is impossible to imagine really.

“He was always a star to work with before and after a race, and was invariably brilliant in a race. He rode some great winners for me early on in my career.

“Short Squeeze and Gifted Master were two of the key ones, but his efforts aboard Covert Love in both the Irish Oaks, which was our first Classic, and in the Prix de l’Opera, which was a thrilling victory and an extraordinary ride, were things that I will remember forever.

“I’m just incredibly grateful not only for what Pat did for me and my career, but also to have known him. My heartfelt sympathy to his wife Frances and their three children.”

Harzand and Pat Smullen come home in front in the Derby
Harzand and Pat Smullen come home in front in the Derby (David Davies/PA)

Smullen also steered Harzand to victory in the Irish Derby for owner the Aga Khan. Pat Downes, general manager at the Aga Khan’s Irish studs, said: “It’s very sad news. We had some great days. Obviously Harzand’s two Derbys were the highlight.

“A great jockey, but also a great person and he battled hard for the last two years.

“It’s a terrible loss to his family – Frances, and (children) Hannah, Paddy and Sarah, and it’s just so sad, but I think in time we can all look back and feel lucky we have known him. He was a really great person.”

Famous Name was a prolific winner in the hands of Pat Smullen
Famous Name was a prolific winner in the hands of Pat Smullen (Niall Carson/PA)

One of Smullen’s most remarkable associations was with the Weld-trained Famous Name in the Juddmonte silks of Khalid Abdullah.

Abdullah’s racing manager Teddy Grimthorpe said: “Famous Name won 21 races, and 20 of them were at Listed or Group Three level – Pat rode him to win every single one. You can’t imagine that that has happened many times

“He was an incredibly talented jockey, but an even better human being. I know Prince Khalid was incredibly fond of him as well, both as a rider and a person.

“He was a rare breed of a man, as he showed with his work for charity.

“His life may not have had great quantity, but it had fantastic quality.”

Murtagh celebrates Group One glory with Champers Elysees

Champers Elysees completed her meteoric rise through the ranks as she gave Johnny Murtagh his first Group One success as a trainer with victory in the Coolmore America “Justify” Matron Stakes at Leopardstown.

The three-year-old won a Curragh handicap on her seasonal bow in June, but after winning a Listed heat at the Galway Festival and a Group Three at Gowran just 10 days ago, Murtagh – who has been enjoying such a fine season – opted to pitch her into top-level company.

Teaming up with Colin Keane for the first time, Champers Elysees was ridden with restraint through the early stages, as Love Locket set the pace and it looked at one point as though the winner’s stablemate Know It All would take the prize before Peaceful took over in the final furlong.

However, Champers Elysees was flying on the outside, sweeping through in the shadow of the post to give Murtagh a memorable triumph.

Peaceful kept on for second, with 9-4 favourite Fancy Blue keeping on for third, just ahead of the Cieren Fallon-ridden Know It All.

Murtagh, who won the race three times in the saddle, said: “It feels great. I’m sick of everyone saying ‘you had such a great career as a jockey’ – that’s in the past and it’s the now I’m worried about.

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“It’s been a brilliant year, but to win a Group One on Champions Weekend means everything. That’s why we get up in the morning.

“We believe we have the team to compete in Group Ones and we want to be on this stage.

“I have to say thanks to my wife, my family, as they have been very supportive and to all the staff back at the stables and everybody who supports us, including the owners, through a tricky year.”

He went on: “She was always a good filly and I did think she’d make up into a stakes filly. The amount she has improved is unbelievable.

“She has improved a lot physically and she’s now started to know she’s good. Handicap, Listed, Group Three and now she’s a Group One winner. When those fillies start improving, there is no end to them.

“I was watching both of them and thought Know It All ran a cracker as well, she was there all the way and might have just got outstayed.

“I could see her (Champers Elysees) coming with Fancy Blue and I thought it was going to be a battle, but the way she quickened up in the last 100 yards, Colin said, was very impressive.

“She’s a very good filly.”

Murtagh could now head to Newmarket with Champers Elysees, and a trip to the Breeders’ Cup meeting will also be under consideration.

He added: “I don’t know where next as this was the main plan. I suppose the Sun Chariot in Newmarket is there, it’s fillies only again and I wouldn’t mind staying in with the fillies.

“There is also a chance to go over to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. We’ll sit down, enjoy tonight and then make a plan about where to go next.

It was a red letter day for Johnny Murtagh
It was a red letter day for Johnny Murtagh (PA)

“The Breeders’ Cup is an option and a mile around there would suit her down to the ground as she’s quick and has a great turn of foot.

“It’s been a magical season. I’m a very good trainer and I just need better horses!

“When I get them, these are the results. It’s very hard to source horses in Ireland, but when we do I’m not behind the door in telling people that we are able to do the business once we get the right horse.”