Murtagh backs Christophe Soumillon to bounce back from losing Aga Khan retainer

Arc runner up Vadeni will continue racing career as a four-year-old

Johnny Murtagh has backed Christophe Soumillon to successfully bounce back from his split with the Aga Khan.

Following the Belgian’s dramatic unseating of Irish jockey Rossa Ryan at Saint-Cloud last Friday — which resulted in a 60-day dangerous riding ban — the Aga Khan’s team confirmed on Tuesday they have ended their long-standing retainer with France’s best-known jockey.

However, they didn’t rule out Soumillon riding their horses in future, appearing to leave such decisions to the discretion of their trainers.

The 10-time French champion jockey begins his ban later this month and will be out of action until December.


It is the second time Soumillon and the Aga Khan have ended one of the sport’s most high-profile partnerships. Soumillon was retained from 2002 to 2009 only for some public comments by the rider to prompt a separation. However, he regained the position in 2014.

There has been overwhelming criticism of the 41-year-jockey over Friday’s incident and the French racing authorities admitting they would have preferred Soumillon not to have ridden over Arc weekend.

Nevertheless, he carried the famous green and red colours to success in a Group Two race on Saturday and came within half a length of landing the Arc on runner up Vadeni.

On Tuesday Soumillon pledged to rebuild his career and his former colleague Johnny Murtagh has little doubt he will do so.

During his own stellar riding career, Murtagh enjoyed huge success for the Aga Khan, including winning the Arc, as well as the English and Irish Derbies, on board Sinndar in 2000. However, he also split with the owner in 2012 only to be subsequently added to the Aga’s roster of trainers in 2020.

“I think he knew the writing was on the wall. When a jockey falls off in a race, and he pushed over, and caused it, you know ...” said Murtagh on Tuesday.

“He’s probably feeling terrible himself, then this to happen on top of it. But sometimes when you’re 41, and you’re floating along, you need something to reinvigorate you, and I’ve no doubt it will reinvigorate him.

“He’ll want to get back and repay all the people he’s riding for.”

“I’ve no doubts by the way he’s talking, and knowing the person himself, that he will. He’s out of the comfort zone so he has got to get down and dirty. He’s got the personality to do it,” he added.

Although not retained any more, Soumillon could still team up with some of the Aga Khan’s horses in 2023, perhaps even maintaining the partnership with Vadeni.

This season’s French Derby and Eclipse winner is set to continue his racing career as a four-year-old.

“We felt he was unlucky in the Irish Champion (third to Luxembourg) and he was beaten in the Arc in very deep ground so we felt he needed to get another chance in it,” the Aga Khan’s spokesman, Georges Rimaud, reported.

“He answered all the questions — he can stay and he doesn’t mind the ground — so we felt the right thing to do was give him another chance next year.

“I think it’s the right decision. I think the horse will strengthen more and I think he will have a very good year next year.

“We will probably start with a race in France — the Prix Ganay or something like that. Then we could maybe aim for the Prince Of Wales at Royal Ascot and then see how we bring him to the Irish Champion and then the Arc, something of that nature with all the variations in between.

“It all depends really what other horses will be running next year and how the horse is. There’s a lot of ifs and buts during a horse’s career but the trainer [Jean Claude Rouget] mentioned those races on Sunday,” he added.

In other news, the Godolphin team are happy with last season’s Derby and King George hero Adayar ahead of a clash with Baaeed in Saturday week’s Champion Stakes at Ascot.

“We’re going into Champions Day with fresh legs. I contemplated running in the Arc but we saw the conditions and we didn’t want for him to potentially have his last run in those conditions,” trainer Charlie Appleby said.

“We’re very much looking forward to him competing at Group One level over 10 furlongs as we believe he’s got the pace to do it,” he added.

Wednesday’s domestic action is in Navan where Johnny Murtagh is set to saddle four runners.

The Curragh trainer is on the 40-winner mark in what has been another successful season and he will hope the handicapper hasn’t got to the bottom of some of his Navan contenders.

Maristella is topweight for a fillies handicap having been put up 11lbs in the ratings for a win at Galway last month but still looks progressive.

Mile End has been upped 12lbs for scoring at the Curragh last time yet could still prove hard to catch in a Nursery.

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor is the racing correspondent of The Irish Times. He also writes the Tipping Point column