Johnny Murtagh: “Stop referring to me as a jockey, I’m now a trainer”

Champers Elysees and Colin Keane winning the Coolmore America 'Justify' Matron Stakes

Johnny Murtagh had a day that he will never forget at Leopardstown on Saturday with his first Group One winner as a trainer in the form of Champers Elysees.

The filly has risen through the ranks this season in meteoric fashion and landed a bit of a punt when winning the Coolmore America “Justify” Matron Stakes. The three-year-old won a Curragh handicap off a mark of 86 on her seasonal reappearance in June, but proved she was no average horse when going on to win a Listed contest at Galway by seven lengths.

She then ran in a Group Three at Gowran Park and was made to work hard by the improving Pearls Galore but she got the job done and it was now time for her to take on some top class opposition. She was given the perfect ride by Colin Keane, ridden with restraint through the early stages allowing those at the front to do all the donkey work.

Champers Elysees was travelling like a dream in rear turning for home and Keane came flying down the outside, sweeping through to win in the shadow of the post to give Murtagh a day that he will never forget.

“I’m no longer a jockey”

Murtagh has very fond memories of the race as he won it three times as a jockey, and said: “It feels great. I’m sick of everyone saying ‘you had such a great career as a jockey’ – that’s in the past and it’s the now I’m worried about.

“It’s been a brilliant year, but to win a Group One on Champions Weekend means everything. That’s why we get up in the morning.

“We believe we have the team to compete in Group Ones and we want to be on this stage.

“I have to say thanks to my wife, my family, as they have been very supportive and to all the staff back at the stables and everybody who supports us, including the owners, through a tricky year.”

He went on: “She was always a good filly and I did think she’d make up into a stakes filly. The amount she has improved is unbelievable.

“She has improved a lot physically and she’s now started to know she’s good. Handicap, Listed, Group Three and now she’s a Group One winner. When those fillies start improving, there is no end to them.

“I was watching both of them and thought Know It All ran a cracker as well, she was there all the way and might have just got outstayed.

“I could see her (Champers Elysees) coming with Fancy Blue and I thought it was going to be a battle, but the way she quickened up in the last 100 yards, Colin said, was very impressive.

“She’s a very good filly.”

What next for Champers Elysees?

“I don’t know where next as this was the main plan. I suppose the Sun Chariot in Newmarket is there, it’s fillies only again and I wouldn’t mind staying in with the fillies.

“There is also a chance to go over to the Breeders’ Cup Mile. We’ll sit down, enjoy tonight and then make a plan about where to go next.

“The Breeders’ Cup is an option and a mile around there would suit her down to the ground as she’s quick and has a great turn of foot.

“It’s been a magical season. I’m a very good trainer and I just need better horses!

“When I get them, these are the results. It’s very hard to source horses in Ireland, but when we do I’m not behind the door in telling people that we are able to do the business once we get the right horse.”

Murtagh nearly lost her

Prior to her Galway success, the filly was as good as sold to America for a large sum but the deal fell through after the veterinary check. After her Galway win, she was nearly sold again but the bidders backed out as they were not happy with her movement. Johnny must be counting his lucky stars!

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