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“It got us started” – Murtagh hails “special” Irish EBF Auction Series

With almost €150,000 accumulated in prize money, and Group 1 winner Champers Elysees a graduate, the Curragh trainer considers the series “a game changer for us”

“There is no better way to promote yourself than getting those winners on the board”

Thu 22 Jul 2021

Johnny Murtagh has hailed the role of the Irish EBF Auction Series in building his operation to the point where he is now a Group 1- and Royal Ascot-winning trainer, whose success prompted three of the largest owner-breeders in the world to send him horses.

Murtagh was a generational talent as a rider, recording success at the highest level on a global scale including in Ireland, England, France, Germany, USA, Canada, Hong Kong and UAE.

Having been legged up on the best pedigrees around throughout a stellar career, training was always going to begin at a different level without access to the blue bloods. And it is notable how the boss of Fox Covert Stables on The Curragh reflects on the opportunities to access considerable prizemoney – €699,000 this year – in the Irish EBF Auction Series helped him grow.

“It is special, it got us started,” was Murtagh’s glowing reference on the Irish EBF Auction Series Shout Out.

“I can’t thank them enough for it. It gives those horses that opportunity to win good money for syndicates and for the smaller owners who can’t afford the blue bloods of the world. But if you could win one of those it is going a long way to pay the training fees for the year. 

“That is what you are trying to do. You are just trying to make sure that the horse that they have in training with you can pay its way.”
Murtagh has continued to support the series, even as the quality and quantity of his string has expanded. In all, he has registered eight maiden winners since the commencement of the series in 2015 and accumulated a total of €144,735, with 33 of his 67 runners collecting in some fashion.

Two of those winners have come this year, Lord Gorgeous taking the spoils in the very first race of the series at Dundalk in April and then more recently, Threebagsfull scoring at Bellewstown.

It is the presence of Champers Elysees on the roll of honour that stands out, however. A €28,000 purchase at the Tattersalls Ireland September Yearling Sale in 2018, the Fitzwilliam Racing-owned filly collected €17,000 alone for her triumph at The Curragh 12 months later.

She continued to progress through her three-year-old campaign, famously providing Murtagh with his maiden Group 1 success in the Matron Stakes at Irish Champions Weekend 2020. September is clearly her favourite month of the year.

The daughter of Elzaam, who has now accumulated almost €300,000 in prizemoney to date, is far from an outlier when it comes to the quality emerging from the Irish EBF Auction Series.

Laws Of Indices and Helvic Dream are former series maiden winners to provide their trainers Ken Condon and Noel Meade with Group 1 victories this year, having been purchased for just €8,000 and €12,000 respectively, while Gavin Cromwell’s Quick Suzy won the Irish EBF Equine Maiden at The Curragh in May and subsequently landed Group 2 spoils in exhilarating fashion for Gavin Cromwell at Royal Ascot. 

In all, there are 24 qualifying races, run over five, six and seven furlongs, confined to EBF-eligible two-year-olds purchased at public auction for €72,000 or less, with weight allowances for horses purchased at lower prices. The minimum value of each race is €20,000 while a final, which is worth €120,000 alone, and an alternative €30,000 nursery final will bring the series to a fitting climax in Naas in October.

There are still 15 maidens remaining this year, including two this weekend at Cork (Friday) and Gowran Park (Saturday), before attentions turn to the Galway Festival contest on July 31st.

For Murtagh, these maidens presented and continue to present an obvious opportunity to source horses and owners, with the potential for getting a return in terms of prizemoney and/or a sale, and the dream of finding a horse capable of competing at the highest level. Success breeds success, not just for the trainer and that means owners are much more likely to reinvest. 

“It’s great. When you go to the sales on a budget, you are looking for the horses between the €20,000 and the €40,000 so you are eligible for those auction series. You could run maybe in a maiden and run well, and then I always ask my jockeys, ‘Can she win an auction maiden?’

“The prizemoney is so good. You could rock up at an auction maiden there could be four or five real live chances. They are very competitive but it is a great initiative for those horses. At least you are not rocking up against a Galileo or a Frankel or a Sea the Stars or a War Front. It gives you a chance at your own level.

“And the sweet spot is, if you get one for €10,000 and you are taking on a €50,000 horse, you get the weight allowance. It is a game changer for us. And it is something that we really appreciate that has come on board. We have been lucky in a few but we really appreciate what everybody did behind the scenes to give horses that don’t cost, haven’t the big pedigrees, a chance to pay their way through the year.”

“(As a trainer) it gives you an opportunity to get a win beside your name. Everybody is happy to go to the races. There is no better way to promote yourself than getting those winners on the board. And you get some money in for the kitty to pay for the training fees. And then at the end of the year if you sell on you can go back shopping again for the following year.

“That is the way it has been. That is the way we have ran the business there for the last number of years. It is good prizemoney, it is good profile for you. There is nothing better than bringing people to the races and they walking to that No 1 and standing there for the photo. And then the opportunity to race for the big bonus at the end of the year which is the icing on the cake.”

The success has continued this year in association with new stable jockey Ben Coen, and Create Belief supplied the pair with another landmark triumph in the Sandringham Stakes at Royal Ascot in June.

As a result of this glory, founded on having a series for the market of horse he could trade in, the pedigrees are now being sent his way. The Kells native now trains for the Aga Khan, Coolmore and Godolphin, and he was only a neck away from hitting the target for the triplicate of titans in the space of 24 hours last week.

“It was nearly a great weekend because I had the first winner for the Coolmore partners, the first horse they gave me (Ever A Dream, an eight-length handicap winner at Fairyhouse on July 11). Took her a while to win but it was great. To get those owners into the yard it is very hard and then to show them that you can do the business it means a lot.

“We had our first winner for Godolphin the next day (Safecracker bagging a Dundalk 3yo+ maiden). So that was extra special as well because going back years ago, John Oxx had all those horses for Sheikh Mohammed when he came on first. We have only got two horses for them so to win with one of them was good also.

“And we nearly had our first winner for the Agha Khan down in Killarney (when Karakoul was just headed on the line in a 2yo maiden the same day). It was nearly a great weekend’s work but to get those big owner-breeders into the yard (is great). Because there is always a chance you can get that one horse and that is what we are looking for.”

But the Irish EBF Auction Series will remain a key focus of the Murtagh organisation, because of what’s on offer, in terms of prizemoney and potential quality, such as Champers Elysees.

“She went on to win a Group 1 which is really good but I can’t emphasis enough… Everybody targets the auction maiden now because the prizemoney is so good. If you do win you have a chance of going for the final as well. So it’s a great initiative.”