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Longines Irish Champions Weekend: Johnny Murtagh stable tour

By Harry Allwood@harry_allwood
Sat 11 Sep 2021

Watch and read more from Johnny Murtagh who provides Racing TV's Donn McClean with the inside track on his leading lights at Leopardstown and the Curragh this weekend plus his St Leger contender Ottoman Emperor.

WATCH: On The Wire Video Podcast - Johnny Ward and the team share their best bets for Leopardstown and the Curragh this weekend plus are joined by special guest Seamie Heffernan

It is a big weekend for Johnny Murtagh who has a number of leading contenders at the Longines Irish Champions Weekend, and also a strong candidate in the Cazoo St Leger at Doncaster on Saturday.

Murtagh enjoyed his first Group One winner as a trainer on day one of the Longines Irish Champions Weekend last year when Champers Elysees landed the Matron Stakes, and his four-year-old will bid for back-to-back victories in the Leopardstown showpiece on Saturday.

Ben Coen had a difficult decision to make ahead of this weekend, and Murtagh’s number one rider has decided to ride Ottoman Emperor in the St Leger on Saturday instead of heading to Leopardstown for a strong book of rides, which would have included Champers Elysees who Coen missed the ride on last year due to injury.

Murtagh described his first Group One winner 12 months ago as a “special” victory and will be hoping for more success at the highest level this weekend.

The former leading Irish jockey spoke to Racing TV’s Donn McClean about his leading lights, as well as Ottoman Emperor’s chances in the final Classic of the season in Britain.

Full interview: Johnny Murtagh discusses his leading lights this weekend

Saturday

CHAMPERS ELYSEES

Race: Coolmore America "Justify" Matron Stakes (1.40pm, Saturday)

She’s coming along nicely and is in great form. She had a few little hiccups earlier in the year and we thought she ran well at Ascot. We then went over again for the Falmouth where she didn’t get a great run and got a bit smashed. Ben (Coen) said she was going to run a good race that day and thought she might have finished fourth or fifth. I was thinking she might want a mile and a quarter this year and I was half debating about the Blandford Stakes, or go back to the Matron. At the Curragh last time, it looked like she was coming there but didn’t quite get home in the last 100 yards, so we are giving her a crack at the Matron again. She came out of the Curragh race really, really well. She’s fit, she’s ready to go and I think she’s as good as she has been all year. The lads that ride her tell me she’s been going really, really well all year, but is “really bouncing” and is “fresh and well” now. She goes there with a chance. She has to step up again but maybe she’s a filly that comes good at this time of year. She doesn’t mind any ground and it’s good, fast ground (at Leopardstown), the same as last year, and a similar race. We will also probably ride her similar and hope for a similar result!

EARLSWOOD

Race: Paddy Power Stakes (3.15pm, Saturday)

We were trying to get him into the Irish Champion Stakes as we thought after the Royal Whip it was a “win and you’re in” race, but it wasn’t, you had to be in first! So, we didn’t enter him in it, but he’s in the Paddy Power Stakes. It’s a Group Three, and he’s won two Group Threes already. It’s a mile and a half again and he’s in very good shape. He came out of the Curragh really well and it was a nice, smooth win. It’s always a very, very competitive race but we think he’s in good shape and he needs a bit of rain to come. We have big targets for him now until the end of the season. I thought he might be a Leger horse one day because his brother won the Chester Cup over 2m2f, but he seems to be getting a bit sharper with racing. He hasn’t won over a mile and a half yet, but I think it is within his compass, although we won’t know until we try it. We will find out on Saturday!

OTTOMAN EMPEROR

Race: Cazoo St Leger (3.35pm Doncaster, Saturday

He’s good. He came out of the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood really well. We’ve freshened him up; it’s been a while since he ran but that was the plan as he had been busy through the early part of the season. 1m6f is a bit of an unknown, but he races lazily so he’ll give himself every chance. It’s a long way down that straight at Doncaster if they get racing early, but he’s very well and I’m very happy going over there. We are going to have to pay to see if he will stay 1m6f, but I couldn’t be happier with him. He’s in good shape and Ben (Coen) is very happy with him. He never gives you 100 per cent, so he’s never really tired after his races. He’s always hanging on to a little bit. I’m hoping that, when he does dig deep on Saturday, there is a bit more. He always responds well at the end of his races and always finishes off his races really well, so that should put him in good stead for 1m6f at Doncaster. We haven’t got to the bottom of him yet, and although it’s a big ask, we could not be happier with him.

RIOT

Race: Irish Stallion Farms EBF "Sovereign Path" Handicap (4.20pm, Saturday)

He went to the July sales and didn’t sell there, and Sheikh Fahad sent him over to us. I was driving him mad to send us over some more horses so he said you can have Riot! He’s a good horse. He ran very well at Royal Ascot where he finished third. He was a little bit fresh, and I ran him short because I thought he might be keen over seven, but he ran well at Dundalk. He got a bit outpaced but Ben (Coen) said he hit the line really well. He’s training good and seven furlongs at Leopardstown should suit him. I don’t think he minds a big field as he likes the hustle and bustle that you need for those races. If he gets a good draw and things fall right for him – I think he is a horse that needs everything to go right – then I can see him running a big race. He’s tested in those big, competitive handicaps over in England. Hopefully he has a few pounds left in him here in Ireland.

Sunday

MEASURE OF MAGIC

Race: Derrinstown Stud Flying Five Stakes (2.55pm, Sunday)

She ran really well at Ascot on soft ground where she finished third and tried really hard, so maybe she was a bit flat when I ran her at the Curragh, and I was a bit disappointed. We have freshened her up now and she seems to be going well and seems to be back with that freshness again. I thought she was an out and out five furlongs horse at the start of the year, but she won a Listed race over six and ran well in the Commonwealth Cup. She’s fresh now, so I don’t think five should be a problem. She’s going there in good shape. She’s won two Listed races, has been placed in a Group Two and has been placed in a Group One. I’d love to win a Group One with her, so we’re going to aim high from now until the end of the season with her. On her day, she’s a very smart sprinter and I think you can forgive her last run.

SONNYBOYLISTON

Race: Comer Group International Irish St. Leger (4.40pm Sunday)

He was going really well last year and was very progressive. He was a big, backward three-year-old that came into his own. I thought he’d be even better this year, and, in fairness, he has improved again. He’s rated 113 now after winning the Ebor, so he goes into the Irish St Leger only a few pounds below the top-rated horses in it, so we think he has a chance. He’s in good shape and we know he gets the distance now. 1m6f at the Curragh should suit him really well. The way the Ebor is now, you need a pretty decent horse to win it as all the high-rated horses get in and it’s a very competitive race. Royal Diamond got beat in the Ebor before coming back to win the Irish St Leger, so I’m hoping this fella can do the same.

MIRANN

Race: Irish Stallion Farms EBF "Northfields" Handicap (5.45pm, Sunday)

He’s been beaten favourite on numerous occasions because he does travel really well in his races and maybe he doesn’t find the four lengths he promises to off the bridle. He travelled good in the Ebor but didn’t get home, and his jockey reported he didn’t stay the trip, so we are dropping him back to a mile and a quarter at the Curragh. He needs luck in running and he needs things to fall right for him, but if he arrives there at the furlong pole, I can see him playing a big hand. He’s been frustrating because I do think he’s a Stakes horse. He hasn’t done it yet, but it’s his last run here and he’s heading to Sydney after, so I’m sure he will be a Saturday horse in Australia. He might not win the Melbourne Cup, but I’m sure there are Cup races they will have planned for him.

Not long to wait now! Watch Longines Irish Champions Weekend live on Racing TV.

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