Racing: Murtagh reprieved for Motivator's major day

Three new names have been added to Johnny Murtagh's Christmas card list: Lord Rathcreedan, John Wallinger and Nick Nutting. They were the wise men who decreed yesterday that the Irishman could, after all, ride the favourite Motivator in Saturday's 226th Derby. The pedigree cattle auctioneer, the banker and the retired businessman, with 64 years experience as racecourse stewards between them, decided at a hearing at the Jockey Club's London headquarters that their colleagues at Lingfield had been too harsh in banning Murtagh for three days for careless riding last week. They reduced the punishment to two on appeal, and it now starts after the Derby.

Three new names have been added to Johnny Murtagh's Christmas card list: Lord Rathcreedan, John Wallinger and Nick Nutting. They were the wise men who decreed yesterday that the Irishman could, after all, ride the favourite Motivator in Saturday's 226th Derby. The pedigree cattle auctioneer, the banker and the retired businessman, with 64 years experience as racecourse stewards between them, decided at a hearing at the Jockey Club's London headquarters that their colleagues at Lingfield had been too harsh in banning Murtagh for three days for careless riding last week. They reduced the punishment to two on appeal, and it now starts after the Derby.

Murtagh had been found guilty of interfering with rivals before winning a minor two-year-old race. After nearly two hours of enquiry and deliberation, the Shaftesbury Avenue disciplinary committee judged that rules had indeed been broken, but not excessively seriously. The three-day ban had been due to start on Derby day, but one of two days, the minimum for the offence, is automatically deferred to avoid domestic Group One races, and so this one starts on Sunday. The two other jockeys in the Lingfield race who gave evidence yesterday, Paul Doe and Frankie McDonald, played down the interference to their mounts; Murtagh might also care to take note of their addresses come December.

On hearing the verdict Murtagh, who will be going for his third Blue Riband in six years, raised his eyes to the skies. "That is a huge relief," he said. "It has been on my mind; even though you try to think of other things it is there hanging over you. It is the biggest race of the year for a jockey, and now I can look forward to it.

"Motivator is in good form, and must have a great chance. In a way I suppose this has all added to the spice of the story. It would be great to end it all the right way by winning the race."

Just as relieved was Motivator's trainer, Newmarket-based Michael Bell. Although the eminently capable Darryll Holland was on standby, the unbeaten Montjeu colt, who carries the colours of the up-market Royal Ascot Racing Club, is a feisty character and Murtagh knows him best and has been key in educating and settling him in his preparation. "Thank God," said Bell. "With no disrespect to Darryll, Johnny was always the man we wanted and it's fantastic news he can ride."

Holland is now without a Derby mount, although it would be no surprise to find him after today's final declaration stage on one of the Ballydoyle lesser lights, Almighty or Grand Central, the only two saddles yet to be filled. And as a consolation from Bell he was given the ride in tomorrow's Oaks on Motivator's stablemate Higher Love.

There has been some brinkmanship over underfoot conditions in the build-up to the Derby. Last week, Aidan O'Brien, whose four contenders (Gypsy King, cut to second favourite after being mooted as Kieren Fallon's mount, and Oratorio are the other two) all favour faster ground, expressed hopes that Epsom's groundstaff would leave it to nature. This week, connections of the third market choice, Dubawi, expressed warnings about firm ground, a stance that had been echoed by Bell on behalf of Motivator, whose three wins have come on soft.

But yesterday afternoon, after walking the course, he declared himself happy. Rain had done its bit on the Surrey Downs and, allied to some artificial watering in what has been a dryish week in the south, the ground is currently a safe, jar-free summer surface to suit all parties. "It's beautiful, excellent ground," he said, "a level playing field for everyone. We're desperately keen to be there on Saturday and if it's maintained like it is now, he'll be there."

Twelve fillies will contest the 227th Oaks tomorrow, and there is no doubting the wellbeing of the girl power in the stable of the favourite, Eswarah, her Michael Jarvis yard-mate New Morning having taken the notable scalp of last year's Derby hero, North Light, in the Brigadier Gerard Stakes on Tuesday night.

Jarvis is going for his first Oaks with the twice-raced daughter of Unfuwain and Midway Lady, the victrix in 1986. With both this year's Guineas already in the bag, O'Brien attempts to carry on sweeping the British Classics clean with a triumvirate attack headed by the 1,000 Guineas heroine, Virginia Waters, Fallon's choice.

l Aidan O'Brien said at Leopardstown last night that he will wait until this morning before finalising riding plans for his Derby quartet, but he did reveal that Pat Smullen will ride one of the four.

l Henry Cecil, who has recorded more Royal Ascot winners than any other trainer, saddled a candidate for the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot at York this month when Akimbo registered an emphatic win at Yarmouth yesterday.

HYPERION'S SELECTIONS FOR TODAY'S OTHER MEETINGS:

HAMILTON: 2.40 Flylowflylong 3.10 Compton Lad 3.40 Abelard 4.10 Queen's Echo 4.40 Tanzanite 5.10 Richtee

UTTOXETER: 6.30 Boobee 7.05 High Peak 7.35 Fenney Spring 8.10 Cannon Fire 8.40 Danish Decorum 9.10 Eight Fifty Five

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