Racing: Cheer for Spencer lifts Murtagh's Derby hopes

Johnny Murtagh can perhaps take heart from proceedings at the Jockey Club's London headquarters yesterday. His weighing-room colleague Jamie Spencer took on the stern judgement of the Shaftesbury Avenue disciplinary committee and found the scales of justice tilted in his favour. Spencer succeeded in having a four-day ban for careless riding reduced to three, and is thus free to ride today week, Oaks and Coronation Cup day at Epsom.

As expected, Murtagh yesterday lodged his own appeal, over a three-day enforced holiday that, as it stands, would cost him the ride on Derby favourite Motivator tomorrow week. The two cases are very different, but the precedent of mercy is there.

Murtagh was stood down by the stewards at Lingfield on Tuesday after winning a minor two-year-old race. He was found to have caused interference on Miss Brush as he cut across to the rail from a high draw approaching the first turn. His ban starts on Derby day, and takes in the French version, the Prix du Jockey-Club, the following afternoon. Getting the suspension quashed would be the best result, but if he could get it reduced to two days, the minimum sentence, it would automatically be deferred away from cards with a Group 1 contest.

Murtagh's team hopes to have the appeal heard on Wednesday, the day before the final Derby declarations are made and jockey bookings confirmed. Darryll Holland is on standby in case the hearing does not go Murtagh's way. "Once we decided to appeal after viewing the video," said the Jockeys Association chief executive, John Blake, "we took the opportunity of lodging the appeal as soon as we could to give the Jockey Club as much time as possible to organise the hearing. We have politely requested for it to be held next Wednesday if the Jockey Club can get a panel together. If it is held on Thursday it would be too close to the wire for the 11.30am jockeys' declaration time.

"There is also the knock-on effect for other jockeys. A Wednesday hearing would give Darryll Holland time to re-align for the Derby. There is also the question of connections' horses in other races to consider as well."

The chance for more Epsom glory is, apparently, not Murtagh's only motive for the appeal. "Had the incident happened in the middle of November the reason to appeal would be the same and Johnny does not want three days on his record under the totting-up procedure," added Blake. "It could come back to haunt him later in the season."

A matter of principle was also involved as far as Spencer, who rides unbeaten Irish colt Fracas in the Derby, was concerned. He held his hands up regarding the carelessness of his riding on Dubai Venture in a contest at Newmarket a week ago, but felt that four days, the maximum penalty, was harsh, given the general scrimmaging in the race. "It wasn't just about being able to ride at Epsom, it was about being fairly treated," he said.

Spencer, currently heading the Flat jockeys' table, promptly celebrated his success at Bath, where he rode the first winner, Waterline Twenty. Though he is now free to pick up an Oaks mount, none is obviously in the offing and he may find Haydock or Wolverhampton a happier winner-hunting ground that afternoon. "Whatever, I'm pleased a measure of agreement has been reached and I don't have to come back cold on Derby day," he added.

As the big-race carousel spins, Ryan Moore has been booked for 33-1 shot Unfurled, one of two Derby contenders from John Dunlop's yard. Richard Hughes rides the other, Kong.

Unfurled, winner of the Predominate Stakes, will be a first Blue Riband ride for last season's champion apprentice. "Obviously, I'm pleased," he said. "I saw him win at Goodwood and he looks a really nice horse." The last jockey to win the Derby on his debut was Walter Swinburn on Shergar in 1981.

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