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Johnny Murtagh will ride Novellist in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot

Updated: Tuesday, 23 Jul 2013 15:21 | Comments

Johnny Murtagh has won three Group One races in 2013
Johnny Murtagh has won three Group One races in 2013

Johnny Murtagh has been confirmed as the rider of Novellist in Saturday's King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, but news of the booking was overshadowed after leading fancy St Nicholas Abbey sustained a career-ending injury.

In the absence of the six-times Group One winner, Novellist is now the 4-1 second favourite behind Cirrus Des Aigles with the sponsors Betfair, and trainer Andreas Wohler has moved to snap up Murtagh who is riding at the top of his game.

Ryan Moore partnered the four-year-old to win the Grand Prix de Saint Cloud last time out, when Cirrus Des Aigles could finish only fifth on his first run of the year.

However, Moore will be required to ride Michael Stoute's Hillstar, who was supplemented on Monday at a cost of £75,000.

William Buick is another who has ridden Novellist before, but his boss John Gosden is likely to have runners at York on the same afternoon.

That meant Wohler turned his attentions to Murtagh who, despite starting a training career this summer, remains at the peak of his powers in the saddle, as he showed when winning the Irish Oaks aboard the wayward Chiquita last weekend.

"We've booked Johnny Murtagh as there were question marks over the other jockeys we've used before," said Wohler.

"The owner (Dr Christophe Berglar) didn't want to be hanging around until the last minute, which is understandable, so we've booked Johnny.

"Now we have certainty and Johnny is obviously in really good form."

For St Nicholas Abbey, the hope remains he can still have a career at stud after suffering a serious injury at Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard on Tuesday morning.

Coolmore tweeted: "St Nicholas Abbey suffered a serious career-ending injury at Ballydoyle this morning, vets are currently attending to him.

"We hope to save him for a career at stud, a further update will be posted later."

Dane O'Neill has spoken of his delight at coming in for the ride on Roger Varian's Ektihaam, who slipped up on the bend in a dramatic Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot.

O'Neill is second jockey to owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum behind Paul Hanagan, but the latter has chosen to go to York to ride the William Haggas-trained Mukhadram instead.

"He's a solid horse and rides in these races aren't easy to come by," O'Neill told At The Races.

"I can see where Paul is coming from, but it must have been a difficult decision for him. He must have been cursing when he realised the two horses were going to clash on the same day - luckily for me it is when doing a job like this works out very well.

"He did a light piece of work this morning, it was basically a leg stretch, and Roger was very happy with him. Since his mishap the last day, he's been fine at home."

The Mark Johnston-trained Universal has won four of his last five starts and was most impressive when winning the Princess of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket last time.

He tests the water at Group One level for the first time this weekend.

Bruce Raymond, racing manager to Universal's owner Abdulla Al Mansoori, said: "I spoke to Mark Johnston's stable on Monday and Universal is in top form. All is good with the horse and Mark is very happy with him.

"The faster the ground on Saturday, the better for him. Faster ground may not suit some of the others in the race, but it will really suit us.

"Obviously, he has got a bit to find on ratings but has made tremendous progress so far this season and is a horse going the right way so it makes sense to have a go with him."

Very Nice Name is to provide an exotic addition to another global field.

While trainer Alban de Mieulle is as French as his own name might suggest, the colt can count as a runner from Qatar as his official stable is in Doha.

De Mieulle dominates the Arabian racing scene in the Gulf state as trainer for the Umm Qarn team, owned by Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani.

The Sheikh, like many others in the family, has been extending his interests into thoroughbred racing and transferred Very Nice Name from Freddie Head to De Mieulle's care towards the end of last year. He has good horses with other French trainers like Yellow And Green and French Fifteen.

Qatar has been the making of the son of Whipper, as he won five consecutive local Group races between December and February before he finished third on by far his biggest test when staying on behind St Nicholas Abbey in the Sheema Classic on Dubai World Cup night.

"I was based in France before, but I came to Qatar in 1995," said De Mieulle.

"We have no races for young horses in Qatar, so I have 30 to 40 Arabian horses from three-year-olds upwards, and then I have 15 to 20 thoroughbreds."

Of Very Nice Name, the trainer said: "He had a very hard winter in Qatar, running five times, so we always planned to give him a bit of a break.

"We have a stable in France as well as Qatar, so he has been there since May, in training all the time.

"We were going to run in the Grand Prix de Chantilly a few weeks ago, but it did not work out, but he's OK and working well, even though it has now been a long break.

"Sheikh Abdullah likes a challenge and it's exciting to be coming to Ascot."

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