Monday Musings: From Tiny Acorns

It is very easy to under-estimate the beneficial effect that the big stables can have on others lower down the scale, writes Tony Stafford. They (especially the Maktoums) start with many hundreds of raw, well-bred horses and the simple fact is that they cannot all be talented, many certainly not good enough for their original owners.

Take Symbolic Star, a son of Nashwan from a typically-classy female family, who won one of three – a Wolverhampton all-weather maiden race – before being gelded four days after his next disappointing handicap run off 85 and sent to Tattersalls Ascot sale in July 2015.

Symbolic Star departed after a 7,500gns bid by Carlisle-based Barry Murtagh. In nine runs between his arrival in the far north and Wednesday, Symbolic Star never got in the first four – a fifth of six was his nearest. By the time he turned up at Newcastle on Wednesday last week, he was rated 50 and was running there for the seventh time for the Murtaghs.

Barry Murtagh trains a string (according to the 2016 Horses in Training – I’ll get the new one this week) of 14 horses and his wife Sue is listed as assistant trainer, with elder son Lorcan as conditional jumps jockey.

Lorcan has nine wins to his credit so far, the first on the Flat for Rose Dobbin in 2014, the rest in the north over jumps. Last winter he rode three consecutive winners for Ms Dobbin on Rocking Blues, topped off by a wide-margin success in the Eider Chase, and again in 2016-17 she has provided three wins, the best last Friday when 12-1 shot Monfass won the novice handicap chase at Doncaster.

So Lorcan Murtagh’s progress will have delighted his parents, but last Wednesday, Sue Murtagh was clucking around like a mother hen as she conspicuously guided her younger son Connor through the preliminaries to his first ride in public, on the afore-mentioned Symbolic Star.

Having tried blinkers during the non-productive nine-race lead-up to Wednesday, the Murtaghs now gravitated to a first use of cheekpieces and the five-year-old, expertly guided by Connor, stormed in at 25-1.

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With tears in her eyes, mum Sue was understandably emotional as she told anyone close enough to hear – and luckily I was – that Connor, 16, had undergone open-heart surgery just six months earlier. He is an apprentice in the Richard Fahey stable and had his first ride for the Malton winning-machine back at Newcastle soon after brother Lorcan’s Doncaster win, finishing third on 2-1 favourite, Dose.

Coming hard on the unlikely Royal Artillery Gold Cup success of amputee Capt Guy Disney on Rathlin Rose, young master Murtagh showed just how adversity can be overcome with the right support and the skill and willpower of the individual.

Guy Disney was serving in the army in Afghanistan when the truck in which he was travelling was hit by a rocket. He lost his right leg below the knee, but after encouragement from Irish-based trainer Fergie Sutherland, who similarly lost a leg in the Korean War but later rode in point to points, he was set for his target.

It’s a big jump from winning one’s first race in a 0-60 on the all-weather to the top of the tree, but everyone has to start somewhere. I love recalling the fact that Ryan Moore’s first ever win came as an amateur in a hurdle race.

Most observers regard Moore as the top jockey in the world and the demand for his services in the Far East, Japan especially, illustrates that status. But over the past couple of years, particularly in Hong Kong, a serious challenger has emerged.

His name is Joao Moreira, a 32-year-old Brazilian, who relocated to Hong Kong in 2013. In September of that year he won on all of his eight mounts on a nine-race card at Kranji, Singapore, but in matching that tally with another eight-timer in the highly-charged Hong Kong racing arena at Sha Tin on Sunday, he was entering new territory.

Before Sunday, a maximum six winners had been achieved on a single day in Hong Kong, two of them by Moreira, but after breaking that tally with a seventh success on 6-1 shot Mighty Maverick, he closed out the epic meet with a dominating performance on last-race favourite Prawn Baba.

There was no particularly well-endowed (for Hong Kong) race on the day, but Moreira’s winners still totalled around £660,000 in prizemoney. He is sure to be in demand for Dubai World Cup Day in three weeks and no doubt Nick Smith at Ascot will be trying to entice him over for June’s Royal meeting.

Moreira has appeared at Ascot twice before. In 2013, he was selected for the Rest of the World team for the Shergar Cup and had five rides, winning on the Charlie Appleby-trained Ahtoug in the Sprint. At the 2015 Royal meeting, he was beaten a neck on Medicean Man (50-1) by Goldream in the King’s Stand Stakes. His only other ride that week was in the Queen Anne when, like Moreira, the well-fancied Able Friend travelled over from Hong Kong, but could finish only sixth to Solow.

Another of his 2013 Shergar Cup rides was the then Mark Johnston-trained Heavy Metal. Now seven, that gelding has been on a real upsurge in form at Meydan and won by six and a half lengths on Saturday, the last checking point before the World Cup meeting. Moreira might be an interesting contender, but will have to dislodge the revived Mickael Barzalona, who I notice has reached the grand old age of 25.

He seems an altogether different character than the extremely self-confident youngster who celebrated Pour Moi’s Derby win at Epsom even before getting past the runner-up Treasure Beach, never mind the winning line.

Barzalona has been re-crafted after a less than glorious spell as a Godolphin senior rider over here, back under the scrutiny of Andre Fabre, who trained Pour Moi for the Coolmore boys. That son of Montjeu never ran again, but after a slow start as a stallion – stamina rarely shines as brilliantly among young horses as speed – he is now newly grafted onto the Coolmore NH sire register.

Even as a late arrival, it will be hard to imagine his covering fewer than 200 mares this year. I hope the three Pour Moi youngsters that Ray Tooth has – two yearlings and a foal – will be precocious enough to make a mark on the Flat. They look nice types at any rate.

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