Juggling balls is all very well, until one slips from the hand. Yesterday it emerged that Johnny Murtagh has had the biggest and shiniest removed from his current act, his contract as the Aga Khan's No 1 rider in Ireland abruptly terminated.
The 42-year-old jockey has won 19 top-level races for the world's leading owner-breeder, most recently the Prix de Diane in June on the ill-fated filly Valyra. The victories came during two associations, the first from 1992 until 2003 and the second starting in November two years ago, when Murtagh was recruited by the Aga Khan's operation a week after he resigned as stable jockey for Aidan O'Brien at Ballydoyle.
No reasons were given for the latest rift but it is no secret that Murtagh, who has been out of action since he broke a bone under his eye when he was kicked by a horse at the Curragh 19 days ago, is much involved with the burgeoning business at Pollardstown, the training yard that he has rented since December to Tommy Carmody.
That venture, set up to give one of Britain's leading owners, Andrew Tinkler, an Irish outlet, has become increasingly successful and within half an hour on Saturday sent out Royal Diamond to finish a close second in the Ebor Handicap at York and Ursa Major to win the Irish St Leger Trial at the Curragh. The latter, ridden by Fergal Lynch, upset the odds-on Hartani, owned by the Aga Khan.
Pat Downes, manager of the Aga Khan's Irish bloodstock interests, said yesterday: "There were differences between the parties and it was agreed that we would part." Murtagh issued a statement confirming his dismissal and adding: "I would like to take this opportunity to thank His Highness and his staff for the very successful years we have had together. I would like to sincerely wish them every success in the future." Earlier this week the French rider Christophe Lemaire's employment with the Aga Khan was confirmed until the end of next year.
Murtagh has ridden 54 winners in Ireland and Britain this year, including Sharestan, Harasiya and Hartani, trained by John Oxx, in the Aga's famous green colours and Saddler's Rock, winner of the Goodwood Cup for another owner in the Oxx yard, Michael O'Flynn.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Rangi (3.25 Sandown)
Catwalk (3.50 Thirsk)
Where the money's going
Mayson has been in demand for the Haydock Sprint Cup, now 6-1 from 10-1 with Coral.