Murtagh Victory Keeps King on Throne ; RACING

Article excerpt

Johnny Murtagh might as well have worn a coat of armour, rather than the dark blue silks of John Magnier, and carried a lance instead of a whip. For one thing, the gulf in class between his mount and the rest would scarcely have been narrowed by the extra weight. More pertinent, however, was the fact that a vulnerable, venerable institution, beloved of the Turf, was being crudely menaced - and Murtagh and his charger had ridden to the rescue.

Dylan Thomas was the one horse among the seven who contested the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on Saturday who could join its roll of honour without a degree of embarrassment. The only thing that might have stopped him was soft going, but by the time the gates opened the track had dried out so thoroughly that some jockeys reckoned it was fast in the straight. After that, Murtagh merely had to go through the motions, and Dylan Thomas breezily outclassed his inferiors.

This was the ninth Group One winner of another epoch-making season for the colt's trainer, Aidan O'Brien. The concentration of so much talent at Bally-doyle has itself contributed to the erosion of this race's traditional role, introducing three-year-olds to their seniors. In other hands, for instance, Dylan Thomas might well have run here last year, after his narrow defeat in the Derby and runaway success in the Irish version. Had he done so, equally, he might never have consummated his talent.

Last year Magnier and his partners in Coolmore Stud already had the horse to beat at Ascot in Hurricane Run, who had been kept in training after himself enjoying a midsummer break at three. They were therefore able to spare Dylan Thomas the sort of gruelling race that might have left the gauge too low for another season of racing. In the same way, by resting their latest Irish Derby winner, Soldier Of Fortune, they have not simply conserved petrol, but refuelled. "If you go to the King George with a three-year-old, they need a break," O'Brien said. "We won it with Galileo, but the race left its mark. Luckily enough, nowadays the lads are keeping some of the older horses in training and as a result people get the chance to see just how good they are."

Of course, his patrons had themselves delayed the fulfilment of Dylan Thomas by confining him to 10 furlongs ever since his success at the Curragh. …