The next time Johnny Murtagh is in the paddock at Dundalk Stadium – quite probably next Friday night – he’ll be in his street clothes, filling the role of trainer. If he goes on to be as successful handling horses as he was when riding him, it will pay to follow him.
The Meathman, who announced his retirement from the saddle last week after over a quarter of a century booting home countless winners, the world’s most prestigious among them, had a great affinity with Dundalk, the grass track as well as the all-weather.
He often said the old track was lucky for him, but there was more to it than luck. He knew the contours of it like the back of his hand, and if you were on the one he produced inside the final furlong, you could start counting your money.
If it was good for him on the grass, it got even better when the surface was changed to sand. The first meeting on the new track took place on Sunday, August 26, 2007, and in front of a crowd of upwards on seven thousand, he gave an early sign of the things to come by taking the venue’s very first race on a filly by the name of Ms Victoria. Doubles, trebles and even a four-timer in the months that followed made him the one to shine up many a night.
And all the time he was winning the big races in this country, England, France and America, riding for Aidan O’Brien’s powerful Ballydoyle stable.
Son-in-law of hurling All-Ireland-winning player and manager, Michael ‘Babs’ Keating, Murtagh has had a trainer’s licence for almost a year, and in June sent out his first winner. No doubt there are goals he hopes to achieve with his string, currently standing at 45; but if asked what was at the very top of his wish-list, it wouldn’t surprise if he said turning out a winner ridden by his daughter, Caroline.
Teenager Caroline has had a number of mounts at Dundalk in recent months, and on last Friday week went very close to scoring a maiden win, beaten a little over a length by the favourite, ridden by champions jockey, Pat Smullen.
What the young lass won’t want for as she progresses her career is guidance from her trainer.