Johnny Murtagh recently bagged another Classic across the water aboard the German trained Novelist. When somebody has been at the top of their trade for as long as the Cortown man, these things tend to be taken for granted. With Murtagh, it can’t and shouldn’t be. His story is remarkable. From overcoming personal hurdles and other work related strife, to the fact that he is now – as well as still being a master craftsman in the saddle – embarking on what’s rapidly becoming a great training career at the same time.
Combining the two is not easy, but then, Meath folk have grown accustomed to their people doing extraordinary things with horses. Think Dreaper, Carberry or Geraghty, think Adrian Maguire, his nephew Jason. Think, too, of bastions of the Flat like Declan McDonogh and Murtagh. That’s only some of them!
All of that comes from tradition. McDonogh’s dad, Des, has enjoyed many high profile wins as a trainer, Noel Meade is said to have idolised Tom Dreaper. All are greats of their code. Tony Martin now rightly ranks among them. A brilliant amateur rider in his day, the Moynalvey based Kildalkey native his engineered successes on the gallops courtesy of horses like Davy’s Lad, Royal County Star, Northern Alliance, Hold The Pin, Benificient and Bog Warrior. That’s only the jumpers, and only a fraction thereof.
Mention of the latter is apt. He’s owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud. Having him number among your owners ranks as a fair endorsement for any Irish trainer. Martin now has the holy trinity of O’Leary, JP McManus and Barry Connell on his roster. As well as other main backers like John Breslin, Aidan Shiels and Niall Reilly. Oh, and a syndicate from Mulvaney’s Fingal House in Dunboyne!
Racing is like farming in a way, every day is different. Martin has seen both days in this game. As well as problems at base, he, like most, was hit by the recession and he admitted recently that he did contemplate walking away from it all and going to work with Nicky Henderson. Irish racing would’ve been much the poorer if he had.
And a lot of pockets a lot emptier after the recent Galway Festival. For mighty Martin strode into the west and conquered. Only Dermot Weld surpassed his achievements. But the master of Rosewell didn’t have things all his own way in Ballybrit this year. Terrific Tony had eight winners for the week. In a normal week that’d be extraordinary, at a big festival meeting it’s astonishing and that three of the eight wins were with the one horse is unique.
What it does is underline the man’s prowess at what he does. He now rightly is counted among the best. Maybe even champion trainer material in time. Bringing owners success will persuade them to give you more stock. In recent times Gigginstown (Edeymi), Breslin (Blackmail, Busted Tycoon three times and he also owns Ted Veale) and Shiels (Lancing) saw their silks carried to success. That’s only a portion of the success Martin has had of late but it all bodes well.
Hanging on to the owners one has is a big enough challenge for all in racing at present. Attracting new ones is even more so. Timely, then, that Noel Meade reminded everyone that he’s still one of the best in the business when securing the €100,000 Guinness Handicap with Curley Bill for owner Philip Reynolds on only his second occasion running in the Longford man’s colours.
I’ve learned over the years that certain horses act on the track at Ballybrit, others don’t. Going by Mick Winters, the same appears to apply to trainers. Winters is one of the best characters in racing. The knack he has for working with mares was commented upon before and, while Rebel Fitz again underlined that he’s one of the best geldings on the go, it was another great mare, Missunited, that stole the show, giving the trainer his second Galway Hurdle in a row with Summerhill’s Robbie Power in the plate.
Outside of Winters and Weld, it was very much a case of Meath taking over Galway. And, while the hardest thing is to believe it’s all over, the only good thing about the months ahead is that the national hunt action will only get even better.
FOGRA: Everything in Galway prevailed under a sombre cloud following the passing of Colm Murray. Colm was someone I was fortunate to encounter on a number of occasions over the years – another colleague who became a friend. He was a legendary, inspirational figure in journalism and in so many other ways. May he rest in peace.