Johnny Murtagh dreamed of being a professional footballer before turning his attention to the world of horse racing. During his youth the Irish jockey showed an aptitude for football and had plans to join Blackburn Rovers before friends convinced him to instead apply for the Irish Apprentice Jockey School.
After completing his education at the Jockey School, Murtagh joined the stable of trainer Jamie Oxx who paired the young jockey with his first winner, Chicago Style in 1987. Fine form at an early age saw Johnny Murtagh nominated at the 1989 Champion Apprentice jockey, and soon earned him the position of stable jockey at Oxx’s stable.
In 1993 Johnny Murtagh started winning big races in his native Ireland, taking home the National Stakes and the Pretty Polly Stakes. However the young jockey struggled to keep his weight at acceptable levels and was accused of attempting to cheat the scales, an allegation that led to a temporary breakdown and a brief hiatus from racing.
In 1995 Murtagh was back at the races and paired up with the world-class Ridgewood Pearl. Together they took a series of top races including Murtagh’s maiden Group 1 Royal Ascot win – the Coronation Stakes. The next three seasons saw Johnny Murtagh rack up an impressive series of Group 1 wins as he took the Irish Oaks, Yorkshire Oaks and Irish Champions Stakes.
Johnny Murtagh had to wait until 1999 to win the biggest prize in flat racing, when he won the Royal Ascot Gold Cup on Enzeli.
Later in the season he capped off his impressive performance at Ascot with a win at the Irish National Stakes on Sinndar.
The turn of the millennium saw Johnny Murtagh pair up with Royal Ascot legend, Sir Michael Stoute, as he strung together a relentless series of victories in the Royal Ascot meeting’s biggest Group 1 races. Working with Stoute, the Royal Ascot legend claimed the St.
James’ Palace Stakes, King’s Stand Stakes and Golden Jubilee Stakes during the space of three seasons.
Besides cleaning out the Royal Ascot races Murtagh also began participating in national hunt racing during the winter season, partially because he was allowed to race closer to his true weight. The Royal Ascot legend enjoyed success in the format, winning several races and almost claiming a thrilling World Hurdle victory at the Cheltenham Festival.