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Murtagh hoping to plug Classic gaps with Ottoman Emporer

9 Sep 2021

Former jockey hoping saddle winner in Doncaster's jewel - the Cazoo St leger

Ottoman Emporer

If the betting is a reliable guide then Hurricane Lane is already pretty much home and hosed in Saturday’s Cazoo St Leger at Doncaster, but the Godolphin colt faces something of an unknown quantity in Ottoman Emperor, whose trainer Johnny Murtagh is excited at saddling a live chance in an English Classic.

A field of ten has been declared for the £743,000 Group 1, which is our oldest Classic and the penultimate leg in the Long Distance category of the QIPCO British Champions Series. Goodwood’s Gordon Stakes winner Ottoman Emperor is clear second favourite behind Charlie Appleby’s Irish Derby and Grand Prix de Paris winner, who is firmly odds on.

Murtagh rode the winners of all of the Irish Classics and his wins in three of the five English Classic include three in the Derby. The St Leger eluded him however, and it’s a gap he would love to fill in his second career. He has the utmost respect for Hurricane Lane, but he is not afraid to take him on.

He said: “I never rode the winner of the St Leger, although I didn’t ride in it that often, so to win it now as a trainer would be massive. We won our first Group 1 a year ago with Champers Elysees in the Matron Stakes, but the St Leger would be a first Group 1 in England and a first Classic, which would be huge.

“We are under no illusions about the Godolphin colt, who is already proven as a genuine Group 1 horse and is a worthy favourite. He’ll take a lot of beating, but our horse keeps pulling out a bit more.”

Murtagh, who has Ebor winner Sonnyboyliston in the Irish equivalent on Sunday and so has a live chance of a remarkable St Leger double, along with 19-year-old jockey Ben Coen, added: “It’s a huge weekend for us all and it’s very exciting.

“Ottoman Emperor has done nothing but improve all year. At first we just thought he was a nice horse, but he’s got better with every race and we think there’s a bit left in him still. He’s come right through the ranks and he’s done nothing wrong. He has to get a mile and six at Doncaster, and that can take a bit of getting for a three-year-old, but he races lazily and he’ll give himself every chance. 

“He has always had the physical strength and although he’s by Excelebration he doesn’t know that. He’s a fine big horse and he’s got a lot of heart. Ben rode him on Tuesday morning and was very happy with him. He’s looking forward to it as much as I am.”

Godolphin’s last St Leger success came in 2012, when Encke denied Camelot a historic Triple Crown. Hurricane Lane would be their seventh winner of the race and a third for William Buick, whose 2010 win on Arctic Cosmos was not only his first British Classic, but also his first domestic Group 1.

Buick who also won the 2011 St Leger on Masked Marvel said: “It’s a race I always look forward to and Hurricane Lane goes there with a good profile. He’s only been beaten once, in the Derby behind Adayar, and that was a good run in itself. Hurricane Lane’s form before and since is rock solid and he’s really shown his quality in the Irish Derby and the Grand Prix De Paris, where he was spectacular.

“The way he finished off both races suggests there ought not to be a problem with the trip, but you never know until you try it. With his run style and his breeding you would imagine he would stay as well as anything else would, and he’s got the quality, but I’ve ridden non stayers before in the race who I thought would get the trip.”

The John Gosden-trained Arctic Cosmos was a 12-1 chance when winning in 2010 but Buick, who by then had won a Sheema Classic on Dar Re Mi and several other Group 1s abroad, was pretty confident he would stay.

He recalled: “It was early in my career and my first season with John, so a first British Group 1 was a landmark for me. John had set him up for the race beautifully and it was one of those plans that came together quietly on the day. He was one we certainly thought would stay, and it was an important win at that stage in my career.”

Aidan O’Brien has already won the St Leger six times, most recently with Kew Gardens three years ago. He lacks an obvious stand-out this year but saddles four runners, including High Definition, who was winter favourite for the Derby and has been supplemented at a cost of £50,000 despite two bitterly disappointing efforts since missing Epsom.

High Definition, who wears cheekpieces for the first time, is joined by The Mediterranean and Sir Lucan, who were ahead of him in second and fourth places in York’s Great Voltigeur last time, and Interpretation, who made it three wins from three starts this year when beating Fernando Vichi, trained by O’Brien’s son Donnacha, in a Listed race at Leopardstown last month.

The Derby second Mojo Star goes to post on the back of an unusual preparation. Having finished over three lengths clear of Hurricane Lane at Epsom, he was then beaten more than nine lengths by him at The Curragh before finally getting off the mark in a four-runner Newbury maiden. There was a degree of mitigation at The Curragh in terms of interference, and Richard Hannon is adamant Mojo Star is a stayer who will be seen to better advantage over the longer trip.

Also expected to benefit from the stiffer test is Andrew Balding’s Youth Spirit, who was down the field in the Derby but most recently finished third in the Great Voltigeur. His rider Tom Marquand got on board last year’s winner Galileo Chrome at the last minute for a first Classic success, but he already knows Youth Spirit well.

Marquand said: “Youth Spirit didn’t run up to expectations in the Derby, having won the Chester Vase, but he’s come back in good form following a rest and has run superbly since at Goodwood and York. 

“He’s got a great heart and with Andrew’s horses in such fantastic form it will be interesting to see what he can do now that he’s going up in trip. I think he’s entitled to be involved and he’s about twice the price of horses whose form he ties in really well with. He’s one I’m looking forward to.” The field is completed by Scope, who looked a thorough stayer when a close fifth behind Yibir in York’s Great Voltigeur and whose trainer Ralph Beckett won the 2015 St Leger with the filly Simple Verse.