The triple champion of Ireland (1995, 1996, and 1998) takes over the coveted role from Kieren Fallon, to whom France Galop recently handed a world-wide 18-month suspension for a drugs' test failure. Fallon is appealing.
Murtagh has already enjoyed considerable success in alliance with Coolmore and their number one trainer, the Irish champion Aidan O’Brien. Murtagh partnered High Chaparral to victory in the Epsom Derby (Eng-I) and last year he was aboard five European group I winners for them.
The rider is currently wintering in Dubai where he is polishing his golf swing and competing in the Dubai International Racing Carnival, before returning to Ireland after the Dubai World Cup trials meeting on March 6.
He said of his appointment: "I am over the moon. It is a great opportunity and I am really looking forward to riding for the team.
"Aidan has a very strong team of horses, and I’ll get to know a lot of them as well as looking forward to again riding the likes of Septimus, Peeping Fawn, Soldier Of Fortune, and Listen, whom I rode to win the Fillies' Mile (Eng-I) at Ascot in September. I'm playing golf regularly and jogging every day. The weather in Dubai is picking up, and life is good. When I go home in March, I want to bring my A-game with me -- and I’m not just talking about golf."
Murtagh has not been without his own problems in the past and relinquished his position as stable jockey to John Oxx four years ago, a split attributed to weight problems. But those issues appear to be consigned to the past.
"I'm 37 and I feel my best years are ahead of me," he said. "I think I’m improving in my riding. I’m adding something all the time, and I feel I’m more consistent. Before the flat season starts every year it is always my aim to try to improve myself as a jockey, and that's what I want to try to do again this year."
Murtagh boasts an outstanding record at the highest level and has notched two Breeders’ Cup successes on Ridgewood Pearl in the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Mile (gr. IT) and Kalanisi in the 2000 Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT), one of 12 group/grade I triumphs for the jockey that year.
He also rode Timarida to victory Stateside in the 1996 Beverley D Stakes (gr. IT), and his impressive roll of big race triumphs includes three Epsom Derby (Eng-I) wins (2000 Sinndar, 2002 High Chaparral, and 2005 Motivator).
O’Brien said in a statement: "Johnny has already enjoyed plenty of success as part of the team at Ballydoyle, and we are delighted to have him on board."
Fallon was acquitted of all charges in a trial at the Old Bailey, London, UK, in which he had been accused of race fixing, in early December; but news of the French drugs positive emerged shortly afterwards.