It takes some nerve to buy a used horse from that shrewdest of operators, Sir Mark Prescott, and then some skill to pimp it as a ride.
But then Johnny Murtagh never lacked either quality as a jockey and is exhibiting both in his fledgling second career as a trainer. Ten months ago the Irishman picked up Mutual Regard for 60,000 guineas at an equine clearance auction in Newmarket and yesterday saddled the five-year-old to win Europe’s richest handicap, the Betfred Ebor at York.
After two runs from Murtagh’s Co Kildare stables, Mutual Regard went to the fray on the Knavesmire off his highest-ever rating, prompting his trainer to consider a classier level-weights contest at the York meeting the previous day. But the Ebor’s prize fund of £265,000 was a powerful lure and Murtagh’s faith in his new recruit’s progress was rewarded.
Ridden by the teenage apprentice Louis Steward, Mutual Regard came into the long home straight galloping easily just behind the leaders before hitting the front inside the final furlong. The 20‑1 shot scored by a length and a quarter from Van Percy (14-1), with Elidor (20-1) a length third. The ante-post gamble of the race went slightly astray when the 9‑2 favourite Pallasator – trained by Prescott – could finish only fourth another length away, fading after a move move that appeared to pose a threat to the bookmakers two furlongs out.
“I nearly ran the horse in the Lonsdale Stakes as he had so much weight in this one,” Murtagh said of Mutual Regard, “but we went for it and it’s worked a treat. I never won it as a jockey and it’s great to get it on the board as a trainer.”
Steward was riding in the historic handicap for the first time and yesterday was the first time he had sat on Mutual Regard. Murtagh admitted that the judgement in booking the 18-year-old was not his, but that of his chief patron Andrew Tinkler, the horse’s owner.
“Our own apprentice is currently suspended and we needed someone to claim the 5lb off the horse,” he said. “Andrew is a man who’s hot on his stats and he said that Louis was the man to ride. I didn’t actually know who he was, but he’s done a great job.”
The victory was easily the most prestigious of Steward’s career to date – he had his first ride only two years ago. “I got him settled and we had a nice sit in third,” he said, “maybe I got to the front a bit sooner than ideal, but the horse is honest and battled on so well when the others came to him.”
Twenty years after landing one of the great Ebor punts with Hasten To Add, Prescott was magnanimous after yesterday’s reverse and seeing his former charge, previously owned by a breeding operation, triumphant. “The horse did us well when we had him,” he said. “He won five races, but he’s a gelding, so he had to go and Johnny has, as I would have expected, done a super job with him. But I’d rather it was me that had won it.”