MEATH jockey Johnny Murtagh was appointed number one by champion Irish flat trainer Aidan O`Brien last week ahead of the start of the new flat season next month.
Murtagh will step into the void created by the on-going problems which have plagued Kieren Fallon following his current suspension and ban.
Last year Murtagh rode mainly for Michael Halford and Ger Lyons although he was also utilised by the Ballydoyle trainer
He rode 10 Group One winners last year, which was two less than his phenomenal 12 in 2000 when he was first jockey for John Oxx.
The O`Brien team provided some of those big winners in 2007 including Peeping Fawn and Dylan Thomas in England. Peeping Fawn also won the Irish Oaks at The Curragh. Murtagh also partnered winners in Canada and France during 2007
South African trainer Mike de Kock secured the Meath man`s services for the Dubai Racing Carnival and he is also riding for Dhruba Selvaratnam in the UAE.
Currently based at Nad Al Sheba until early next month, Murtagh will return to Ireland on Thursday, 6th March.
"I would love to win a race on Dubai World Cup night and I think I have a good chance with Asiatic Boy," he commented.
Local trainer Tony Martin also benefited from Murtagh`s talent last year. The Bohermeen natiive rode a famous victory in the Cesarewitch on board the game Leg Spinner for Martin who will now aim the gelding at a Cheltenham novice hurdle.
While Murtagh has ridden over hurdles, it is unlikely at this stage, that he would be on duty at Prestbury Park for the big national hunt festival?
His biggest win over the minor obstacles was at his local Navan track on Golden Cross in the Boyne Hurdle. At Cheltenham he almost pulled off a famous victory on the same horse in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, but the combination went down by a head in a thrilling finish with My Way De Solzen after a great tussle from the final flight.
As an apprentice, Murtagh partnered his first winner on Chicago Style at Limerick in July 1987 and became champion apprentice in 1989
BY the time Murtagh returns to Ireland it is likely that the outcome of any appeal by Fallon, against the 18-month ban which was imposed by the French authorities, will be known
Even if Fallon`s appeal is successful, it is likely that the Clare man would resume race-riding in England where he could partner some of the Ballydoyle horses as necessary.
Murtagh partnered a winner at Jebel Ali on Friday and is looking forward to the challenge of riding some of the best horses in the world for O`Brien.
"Aidan has some fantastic horses and I`m looking forward to riding the likes of Soldier of Fortune and Peeping Fawn again," he stated.
Kiltale trainer Lyons, who finished seventh in the flat standings in 2007, will now have to make alternative arrangements for the forthcoming season, but with a lot of good horses in the yard, he should not have too many problems in getting the right man for the job.
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