Racing: Pearl pair string out success

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Those punters who followed the in-form Ridgewood Pearl team of John Oxx and John Murtagh from Belmont Park on Saturday to Leopardstown's Bank Holiday meeting yesterday will not have been disappointed with their performance - the pair recorded a four-timer - but will have been frustrated if they had hoped to lighten bookies' satchels, writes John Cobb.

For once, the layers were refusing to take punters' cash in a gesture of protest at the opening at the track of a betting shop that they fear will do lasting damage to their profit margins.

Those that backed Ireland's new heroes with the Tote were soon rewarded when they scooped both divisions of the juvenile maiden with Key Change and Western Seas and followed up with a double in the Stakes races with Sheikh Mohammed's Aylesbury and the Aga Khan's Hasainiya. The latter's success in the Trigo Stakes had a sad accompaniment when her market rival, Ballykett Nancy, the winner of six Listed contests for the Jim Bolger stable, injured her back and had to be put down.

The wins virtually assured Murtagh of his first jockeys' championship, enabling him to improve on his one-winner lead to push five clear of the long-time leader, Christy Roche.

Oxx, meanwhile, reinforced his reputation for dedication in the face of an opportunity to party. Eschewing the New York celebrations of Ridgewood Pearl's owner, Sean Coughlan, he returned to work on the Curragh. "I got back on Sunday morning, having flown back on Saturday night. The flight was booked, so there was nothing we could do about it," he said.

"Since then, I haven't done much celebrating - I have had to catch up on sleep and concentrate on today."

Reflecting on Saturday, Oxx said: "Ridgewood Pearl is well suited to the American style of racing, where she can get a good position and lie up on the pace. Johnny Murtagh did very well to get down to 8st 7lb, which is a minimum for him."

The failure of the other members of the European team to score came as no surprise to Oxx. "I think expectations are too high, especially for the horses who ran on dirt. Many of them approach the Breeders' Cup as an afterthought, and it is no disgrace to run badly in the face of a near- impossible task. "People underestimate the difficulties. Ridgewood Pearl has been on the go all year but she did have a bit of a break in midsummer, when she didn't run in the Sussex Stakes or the Jacques le Marois."

Double Trigger will be trying to make a similarly big impression on the international circuit in the Melbourne Cup a week today. His trainer, Mark Johnston, left for Australia last night to supervise the colt's preparations and said: "The horse is fine and everything seems very well. But we said that about Quick Ransom last year and look what happened."

Quick Ransom, now trained in Australia by Lee Freedman and one of Double Trigger's rivals in next week's race, finished 23rd of 24 runners, behind the former Geoff Wragg-trained Jeune, last year.

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