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17 May 2022

Johnny Murtagh pins hopes on Sonnyboyliston to floor opposition in Saudi Arabia

Johnny Murtagh pins hopes on Sonnyboyliston to floor opposition in Saudi Arabia

Johnny Murtagh pins hopes on Sonnyboyliston to floor opposition in Saudi Arabia

Sonnyboyliston has answered every bell for Johnny Murtagh and the trainer hopes the Irish St Leger winner can floor the opposition in Saudi Arabia this weekend.

The Curragh-based handler, who retired from a stellar career in the saddle in 2014, had a breakthrough campaign with the five-year-old and connections hope Saturday’s Longines Red Sea Turf Handicap can be a springboard for an international campaign.

Murtagh’s first Group One winner as a trainer, Champers Elysees, was a filly he picked up for €28,000 as a yearling and Sonnyboyliston was a similarly-priced steal.

The Power gelding, who also took the Ebor Handicap at York, has earned over £660,000 and could secure another notable prize at the King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh.

“We bought Sonnyboyliston at the yearling sales at Tattersalls for €26,000,” Murtagh said.

“He is by Power, who is a bit underrated, and the dam side is good. Liam Clarke runs the Kildare Racing Club, who own Sonnyboyliston. He knew the breeder and was very keen on this lad going to the sales. They’ve all been very patient with him until things really started to click and now here we are. 

“We’ll see how Saturday goes, but he is a horse that will travel because there are plenty of races for him,” Murtagh added.

“We had a great end to the season with him last year, but he has done really well over the winter and he definitely strengthened up on his break and looks strong.

“Saturday will be his first run of the season obviously but we brought him to Leopardstown racecourse for a gallop a couple of weeks ago and we were happy with that. I think he is pretty fit and we are looking forward to the weekend.”

Jockey Ben Coen (second left) and trainer Johnny Murtagh (right) with Sonnyboyliston after winning the Ebor Handicap
Jockey Ben Coen (second left) and trainer Johnny Murtagh (right) with Sonnyboyliston after winning the Ebor Handicap (Nigel French/PA)

On the same card, Lambourn trainer Stan Moore is hopeful bargain buy The Wizard Of Eye will acquit himself well in the Saudi Derby.

The Wizard Of Eye cost just €4,000 as a foal and Moore, who part-owns the three-year-old with Roy Humphrey, his partner Alison Flavell and nephew Oliver Humphrey, feels his three-and-a-quarter-length defeat in the Group One Prix Jean-Luc Lagardere at Longchamp in October reads well.

“The form of the Group One is very strong,” said Moore. “The winner, Angel Bleu, has come out and won another Group One in which the second was Ancient Rome, who finished just ahead of our horse in Paris. On ratings alone he is more than entitled to be here.

“The Wizard is probably the kind of horse that will get better with racing, he is such a big horse and he has more maturing to come.

“If he handles the surface – which his jockey John Egan thinks he will – then we believe he will run well.

“If he comes out of this as we hope, then we might also look at the UAE Derby in Dubai next month. The Irish 2,000 Guineas is another race we could consider later, but our focus is on the here and now.”

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