Johnny Murtagh is better placed than most to assess what it takes to win the Dubai Duty Free Irish Derby.
It was in millennium year that the five-time champion jockey broke his duck at the Curragh aboard the John Oxx-trained Sinndar, who was bidding to follow up his memorable triumph over Sakhee in the Derby at Epsom just a few weeks earlier.
Sent off a warm order as the 11-10 favourite, the son of Grand Lodge rewarded his supporters with a hugely impressive nine-length success. He rounded off his career with victory in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe later that year.
Murtagh said: “Sinndar had won the Epsom Derby – and coming back to the Curragh, I was probably most nervous the night before. I don’t really get nervous, but I was thinking ‘if he doesn’t win maybe they’ll say he was a lucky winner at Epsom’.
“I think there was a £1million bonus for winning the Epsom Derby and the Irish Derby that year as well, so there was a bit of pressure on, but he won very easily.”
Murtagh went on to win a further three Irish Derbys, and points to the triumph of Alamshar in 2003 as his favourite.
Another star from the Oxx yard, Alamshar got the better of fellow Aga Khan-owned runner Dalakhani, who was a red-hot favourite for French trainer Alain de Royer-Dupre and Belgian rider Christophe Soumillon.
“I suppose the most memorable one for me was Alamshar against Dalakhani. The Aga Khan ran the two horses that day,” said Murtagh, speaking at an Irish Derby preview event this week.
“I was struggling that year. I got an injury in Ascot and was only riding on and off. When I won the race I was kind of thinking we might not be there again.
“People said I was milking it – and maybe I was – but at that time and the way I was feeling, I thought there might not be too many more days.
“It was a great battle with Dalakhani. The Aga Khan had (Christophe) Soumillon in France, and I was in Ireland. Soumillon was on Dalakhani – and I felt I was riding for Ireland that day!
“There was no way that on that day, at the Curragh, Soumillon was going to come out on top.”
Murtagh’s final two Derby winners before his retirement from the saddle were on board the Aidan O’Brien-trained pair of Fame And Glory and Cape Blanco – successive renewals in 2009 and 2010.
He credits the master of Ballydoyle with the latter triumph because he was initially keen to partner the eventual runner-up, Midas Touch.
Murtagh said: “The year I won on Fame And Glory, Sea The Stars was declared and didn’t run because the ground was a bit slow. Fame And Glory won pretty easily.
“The story behind Cape Blanco was that I rang up Aidan and said I’d really like to ride the Galileo horse. He said ‘which one, they’re all by Galileo’. I said I’d like to ride the horse that finished second (Midas Touch), but Aidan said ‘no, if you want to win the Derby ride Cape Blanco’.”
O’Brien will, of course, be well represented in the 154th Irish Derby on Saturday, with Epsom hero Anthony Van Dyck leading a formidable team as the Ballydoyle maestro bids for an incredible 13th victory in the race.
However, Murtagh is siding with the Epsom runner-up in Madhmoon, who bids to provide the soon-to-be 87-year-old trainer Kevin Prendergast with his first Irish Derby success.
He added: “This year I do hope Kevin Prendergast can do it. He’s 87 but he’s so positive, and that’s why he’s 87 – he thinks he’s 57!
“You meet him on the gallops and he’s sprinting by you. He’s the king of the Curragh and trains just beside me.
“It didn’t happen in Epsom, but hopefully Saturday can be his day. There’s no one more deserving.”